GISA CLASS A STATE TITLE PREVIEW: For Westwood, 'It's about redemption'

Led by head coach Al Timmerman, front row, second from left, the Westwood Wildcats baseball team isn’t just looking for the school’s first state championship since 1988 today when they face off against the Crisp Academy Wildcats in the best-of-three series, they’re looking for revenge and redemption after Crisp swept Westwood in last year’s GISA Class A finals in Cordele. This time, the series will be played in Camilla. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

Led by head coach Al Timmerman, front row, second from left, the Westwood Wildcats baseball team isn’t just looking for the school’s first state championship since 1988 today when they face off against the Crisp Academy Wildcats in the best-of-three series, they’re looking for revenge and redemption after Crisp swept Westwood in last year’s GISA Class A finals in Cordele. This time, the series will be played in Camilla. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

Battle of the ’Cats — Take 2:

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WHO: Crisp Academy (17-6) at Westwood (19-3).

WHAT: GISA Class A State Championship, best-of-three series; rematch of last year’s state title game.

WHEN: Today — Game 1, 1 p.m.; Saturday — Game 2, 1 p.m., immediately followed by Game 3, if necessary.

WHERE: Camilla.

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CAMILLA — It’s a year later and the dugout is still full of pain.

Well, pain and pictures.

If anyone thinks the kids at Westwood aren’t still hurting over last year’s loss in the state championship to Crisp Academy, they can just look in the dugout today, where there will be pictures from last year’s GISA Class A final.

The photos?

They show the Crisp kids celebrating with Westwood players hanging their heads. Westwood plans to have them on hand today, and the kids may even hang them in the dugout when the rematch takes place as the two rivals meet for the title, in a best-of-three series, in Camilla.

It’s Westwood vs. Crisp Academy, Part II.

“You couldn’t write a better script,’’ said Westwood coach Al Timmerman, whose team will be at home this time after getting swept in Cordele a year ago. The first game is today at 1 p.m., and Game 2 is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Saturday. If a third game is needed, it will be played Saturday following Game 2.

“We started talking about this on the first day of practice. Everybody talked about it being us and Crisp all year,” Timmerman said. “Our goal was to get back to the state title game, and now we’re here and we want to win it. It’s two rivals from the same region, two teams about 45 minutes away and a rematch of the state title.’’

It’s what both teams wanted.

“There’s extra motivation because we’re playing Crisp,’’ the coach added. “But I don’t know if we need any extra motivation. This group is hungry. They want to win.’’

They’re starving.

It was such a brutal and bitter loss for Westwood a year ago. Westwood’s ace, Douglas Nobles, took a no-hitter into the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 1 with a 1-0 lead, but Crisp came back to win, 2-1.

“It was gut-wrenching,’’ said Nobles, now a senior. “It broke my heart.’’

Timmerman said his kids never recovered from the nightmarish end of Game 1.

“It was emotionally draining. After that game, we were as flat as a pancake,’’ Timmerman said.

“We were down here,’’ he said lowering his hand near the ground, “and they were up here,’’ he added lifting his hand above his head. “It switched the momentum, big-time. We talked to them. I talked to them. The assistant coaches talked to them. The headmaster (and head football coach Ross Worsham) talked to them. We just couldn’t recover.’’

Crisp won the second game easily, 14-4.

Westwood hasn’t forgotten. Whens asked how long the pain lasted, Caleb Morrell, who will play shortstop today and start Game 2 on the mound Saturday, said: “It hurts, and it’s not going to stop hurting until this series is over, and we win it.’’

Morrell is batting .540 with 11 home runs (he would have 12 but a rainout wiped out one of his dingers) and is 9-1 on the mound. He may be hurting, but he would rather be playing Crisp than anyone.

“It can’t get any better,’’ Morrell said. “It wouldn’t be the same if we were playing somebody else. They’re the state champs who put us out last year.’’

The two rivals — who admittedly don’t like one another — met twice this season and split, but Westwood won the Region 3-A title because Randolph Southern upset Crisp, which finished the region race with two losses, while Westwood had just one.

Westwood’s Mitch Good joked after the Patriots upset Crisp that the team should give Randolph Southern a cake, and sure enough a couple of weeks later when Westwood and Randolph Southern met for a scrimmage to get ready for the postseason, Good’s grandfather showed up with a cake — one half in Westwood orange and one half in Randolph red.

Westwood ate some cake and bounced back from two losses at the end of the regular season, including one to Crisp, and ripped its way through the playoffs, sweeping both Nathanael Greene and David Emanuel by outscoring its two opponents by a combined 44-4.

Now the kids from Camilla are looking for the icing — to an incredible season. Westwood lost on opening day to Class AA Brookwood, 4-3, then ripped off a 15-game winning streak before losing its last two games of the year to Crisp and Sherwood Christian in the finale.

But when the playoffs started Westwood (19-3) looked like a team on a mission.

Morrell has two homers and two wins on the mound, and Nobles has dominated on the mound during the postseason run. They each have struck out 21 batters in two playoff games. Morrell has 72 Ks this season, and Nobles has 70.

They have both brought a little extra (if you can call it that?) to the team. Nobles has embraced John Wayne, and talks about how this team has an old-school, work-hard mentality that Wayne would love. The uniforms may be orange, but there’s a blue collar to this team.

And Morrell has brought the life of the party to the magical ride — a pair of decoy turkeys he has named George and Nancy (after legendary country singer George Jones and his wife) and swears the lucky birds bring mojo to the bats and gloves at Westwood, where the kids believe this is their year.

“We’ve got John Wayne and turkeys and a team,’’ Nobles said. “Most of all it’s the team. We’re better this year because we are more of a family and more of a team. It’s not just a few guys, it’s the team, one through nine in our lineup — we’re a team.’’

Catcher Mason Worsham (.457) and Mitch Good (.424), who will probably start if there is a Game 3, have been solid in the playoffs, and freshman Taylor Classon has risen to the occasion. He is 8-for-12 (hitting .750) in the playoffs and swinging the bat with confidence.

“I’m seeing the ball better right now,’’ Classon said at practice this week.

Westwood wants to see a state title — the first since 1988. The baseball program is playing in the state finals for the third time since 2008, and everybody on this team — and in the close-knit community — believes this is The Year.

Nobles believes they will win more than just a state title.

“This is about redemption,’’ he said.

It’s also the ultimate rubber match.

Nobles pitched and beat Crisp in the regular-season game in Camilla, 2-1. He not only threw a gem, but he hit a homer to break up the 1-1 tie.

“I got them back,’’ said Nobles, today’s Game 1 starter who is 10-2 on the mound and hitting .575 with 10 homers. “My adrenaline is going to be pumping. That first pitch might go to the backstop. There’s no telling where that first pitch is going to go.’’

Nobles, who has already signed with Georgia Southern, is determined to win a title. Not only was he distraught last year and upset about losing, but it angered him to watch Crisp celebrate.

“We’re going to have pictures of them celebrating in our dugout,’’ Nobles said. “It’s just a reminder.’’

As if anyone needed one.

Crisp won the last meeting against Westwood, 6-1, in the final week of the regular season, a few days after Westwood had clinched the region title. But Timmerman chalked that loss off to a bad day at the office.

“We were just flat that day. It didn’t seem like we were there mentally,’’ Timmerman said.

It showed. Westwood made several errors and Crisp’s kids ran the bases like bandits, stealing and taking the extra base at every chance.

“We kind of kicked it around,’’ Timmerman said. “But they put the bat on the ball. There’s not an easy out in that lineup, one through nine. They put the ball in play, and they’re aggressive. They’re going to force the issue. You know it’s going to be a good series.’’

Expect a big crowd on both days, and expect plenty of tension.

“There’s going to be a lot of barking from both dugouts,’’ Timmerman said. “Everybody talked about it being us and Crisp all year. We didn’t talk about it after that first day of practice, but it has stayed with them. They’re hungry. It’s a matter of finishing. We didn’t finish last year. This year, we want to finish it.’’