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Deerfield swept away

Photo by John Millikan

Photo by John Millikan

PERRY -- Deerfield-Windsor got over the hump this year. They just couldn't get back to the top of the mountain.

The Knights, who finally eliminated rival Tattnall Square after being knocked out of the playoffs three straight years by the Trojans, ran into yet another obstacle that kept coming back. Westfield beat Deerfield Saturday in Game 2 of the GISA Class AAA baseball championship series, 9-7, to capture the school's first state title in 23 years.

The Hornets (32-5) did a little exacting of revenge, beating a Deerfield program that had held the upper hand spanning several sports for years.

"They've put it to us for a long time," said Westfield had coach Rob Fitzgerald, whose team went 4-0 against the Knights this season.

"It sits in the back of your mind as a player and a coach. Hopefully it's our turn for a little while. It's a lot of fun playing them. It doesn't do too good for your heart, but it's good for our kids."

After two final-inning wins and another that needed extra innings, Westfield looked like they would coast to the state title after Alex White blasted a solo homer and then Lane Dixon hit a two-run shot in the fourth inning to open up a 7-1 lead.

But DWS fired back in the fifth with four runs, knocking Hornets starter Caleb Weaver out of the game, and cutting the lead to 7-5.

"They kept fighting," Knights head coach Rod Murray said. "That's all you could have asked for."

The two teams traded runs in the sixth, although Deerfield nearly cut the lead to one run when Michael Laslie singled with two runners on, scoring Banks Kinslow. Davis Moore was gunned down at the plate by Weaver to preserve a two-run lead.

"They wouldn't die," Fitzgerald said of the Knights. "That team over there never quit. We did enough to get the job done (Saturday)."

The Hornets scored on a wild pitch in the seventh and took a 9-6 lead into the final half-inning. Kinslow singled home Matt Moree to make it 9-7. Westfield intentionally walked Chris Moates, who homered in the seventh the previous night to tie the game before Westfield's Wayne O'Neal won the game with his own walk-off homer.

Moates' walk loaded the bases with two outs for Davis Moore, who hit a sharp grounder that was snagged by Hornets' reliever Josh Mullis. Mullis threw to first for the final out, leaving the Knights with 12 stranded runners on the day.

"I felt like we were in it until the last out," said Kinslow, who started as a freshman and went 82-21 over his four-year career. "That's how you've got to feel to win the state championship. We never felt like we would lose."

Fitzgerald said there was no way he was pitching to Moates with the winning run on base.

"Nothing could have (convinced me to pitch to Moates)," Fitzgerald said. "If the bases were loaded I would have intentionally walked him and give up the run. That's saying nothing bad about the next guy. I've just seen it too many times (with Moates)."

The Hornets celebrated on their home field while the Knights seven seniors, many of whom had won state titles in several other sports, finished a final season that just fell short.

"Anytime you're playing for a championship you've done something right," Murray said. "We came up a little short, but by no means did we have an unsuccessful year. There are a lot of teams that want to be in this situation."

Westfield's Weaver picked up the state-title clinching win, going 4 1/3 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on five hits. He struck out none and walked four. Deerfield used Rhett Cooper for two innings, Kinslow for 1 1/3 and Lindsey Short for the final 3 2/3 innings. Short allowed just two runs on two hits. DWS walked nine in the game, while Westfield hit and walked a combined 10.

Kinslow allowed three homers and five runs but also went 1-for-3 at the plate with a RBI and three runs scored. Michael Laslie finished 1-for-3 with two RBI and Cooper had two RBI. Gil Gillespie added two hits.

Westfield got homers from White, who went 2-for-3 and stole his school-record 41st base this season, Dixon (2-for-4) and Brandon Bailey.

The Knights lose six of its starting position players and three staring pitchers from its senior class - Moree, Kinslow, Moore, Laslie, Cooper, Moates and Cooper Shoemaker.

"We were blessed to be around them," Murray said. "We're going to miss them. They left a lot for us to be thankful for."

But, he said, with five rising seniors and seven juniors returning, there's no need to worry about next year right now.

"We're still going to play baseball at Deerfield," he said with a smile.