Westwood’s Reid Carr hugs closer Caleb Morrell after the Wildcats beat Crisp on Friday in the first game of the GISA Class A state championship series in Camilla, as Kaleb Bentley, right, and the Westwood coaches join the celebration.
CAMILLA — By the time it was over the Westwood baseball team had given a whole new meaning to the term “wild turkey.’’
If you follow the Westwood kids, then you know about the turkeys, the good luck turkeys that sit at both ends of the dugout like bookends, framing this incredible ride that has taken Westwood to within one victory of winning the GISA Class A state championship.
The kids say the turkeys give them mojo — and maybe that helped the comeback from being down 3-0, or just maybe there was a little extra at the end when Westwood was hanging on for dear life — but after Friday’s frenetic and emotional 8-7 win against Crisp Academy, Westwood coach Al Timmerman didn’t want to talk turkey.
“If the turkeys did anything to help us win I would give them credit, but all the credit goes to those kids,’’ Timmerman said. “They never, never, never gave up.’’
Douglas Nobles, who got the win on the mound after a gutsy and exhausting performance, caught the final pop fly at shortstop to end the game with Crisp coming at Westwood like a locomotive in the seventh inning.
“Amazing, just amazing,’’ said Nobles trying to describe the final out, and the game itself in one word. “Nothing feels better than winning like this — nothing. Nothing feels better than to come back like that.’’
He was talking about Friday’s game, the first of a best-of-three series that continues today at 1 p.m. at Westwood. But he could have been talking about coming back from last year’s bitter loss to Crisp in the state title series in Cordele, where Nobles pitched six innings of no-hit ball then lost the game, 2-1, in the bottom of the seventh.
He called that loss “gut-wrenching” and said: “It broke my heart,’’ earlier this week, and talked about getting “redemption.’’
Then he went out and threw 128 pitches, the most in his life, in 97-degree heat before Timmerman forced him off the mound in the seventh.
“He didn’t want to come out,’’ Timmerman said later. “I thought I was going to have to lift him on my shoulder and tote him off the mound myself.’’
Why not? Nobles has carried this team on his shoulders for two years, and when the game ended and he was given the game ball, Nobles walked up to freshman Chason Worsham and gave it to him.
“He was clutch,’’ Nobles said.
No argument about that. Worsham’s two-run, two-out single in the bottom of the sixth put the final touches on a whirlwind comeback that started after Crisp jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first and kept it through four innings.
But Westwood scored four runs in the fifth without a hit (honest) to take a 4-3 lead and then Caleb Morrell ripped a two-run double in the sixth and Worsham came through with a two-run single that brought home an 8-3 lead.
“It was the biggest hit of my life,’’ Worsham said.
The Camilla kids needed every run, because Crisp (17-7) wasn’t about to quit.
“They beat us,’’ said Crisp coach John Penney, who saw his kids go through their own saga on Friday. “But the way my guys came back in the seventh inning was priceless.’’
Penney saved his ace, James Brodrey (8-1 with a 1.80 ERA), for today. Brodrey had everyone at the packed Westwood ball park holding their breath in the top of the third when he singled to left and collapsed from the heat after he reached first base.
He left the game because of dehydration, and sat with a doctor in the dugout for the remainder of the long game, cooling off and taking as much fluid as he could handle.
“I’ll be all right to pitch (today),’’ said Bodrey as he left the field Friday. “I’ll be fine.’’
He should give Crisp an edge.
“We got rid of their ace,’’ Penney said of Nobles. “And we hit their No. 2 pitcher (Morrell in the seventh). I couldn’t have scripted it any better other than having us win the game. I told our kids the minute the game was over that that was a memory. It’s not a good one, but it’s just a memory. That game is over.’’
It was over, but it didn’t end until the Fat Lady got up and down about a half dozen times before singing the final note to this one.
“There were a lot of highs for both teams,’’ Timmerman said. “We scored four runs without a hit in the fifth, but we’ll take it. We ended up in the seventh inning battling for our lives, but we won the first one. That’s big. We got this one. That’s No. 5, our fifth win in the playoffs. I told them the magic number is six. We’ve got to get No. 6 (today).’’
If Timmerman’s kids win, it will be Westwood’s (20-3) first state title since 1988, but no one thinks it will be easy — not after that wild ride Friday.
Crisp grabbed a 3-0 lead when Blaine Phillips walked, stole second and later scored on a wild pitch in the first. Bodrey, who was 2-for-2 before he left, drove in the second run with a double in the right-centerfield gap, and he scored on a two-out throwing error.
Rush Brown appeared to be in control for Crisp, shutting out Westwood for four innings on two hits, but he couldn’t find the plate in the fifth, and Westwood found a way to storm back without a hit.
Two hit batsman and a bunt by Mason Worsham, who reached first when Brown’s throw to third for the force-out was just late on a bang-bang play, loaded the bases for Mitch Good, who smacked a sacrifice fly to deep center to get Westwood on the board.
“When it was 3-0, nobody in the dugout was down,’’ Timmerman said. “But we just needed to get that first run. Once we got that first one it seemed like we got the momentum.’’
Nobles, who was hitting .575 with 10 homers, had already hit a single off the centerfield fence in the first and hit a long fly-out to center in the third. Penney decided to intentionally walk him to load the bases again for Morrell. But Brown walked Morrell to make it a 3-2 game, and Penney went to his bullpen and brought in Robby Wright. Wright’s wild pitch brought home Mason Worsham, and J.T. Edore walked to load the bases again.
Wright’s second wild pitch brought in freshman Reid Carr, who was pinch-running for Nobles, and Westwood had a 4-3 lead. Nobles, who has signed with Georgia Southern, had a 1-2-3 inning in the sixth, and Westwood got big clutch hits from Morrell and Chason Worsham to build an 8-3 lead.
“After that (fifth inning) it gave us confidence and momentum,’’ said Morrell, who took over on the mound after Wright got to first on a dropped third strike and Justin McKinney and Hunter Chambers had singled to make it 8-4 with no outs.
Hunter Cook walked to load the bases and Nick Culpepper’s sacrifice fly made it 8-5. Jeff McKinney was hit by a pitch, and Phillips’ infield single had the Crisp fans on their feet, down 8-6 with one out and the bases loaded.
Morrell got Jake Smith on a fielder’s choice on a grounder to short, but the throw to first was too late for a double play, and another run came home. It was 8-7 with two outs and Crisp’s leading hitter Jordan Howard (.500 with seven homers) was at the plate. He hit a sky-high popup that Nobles caught at short.
“When we got that last out, it was just a sigh of relief.,’ said Morrell, who will probably start Game 2 today. “It was crazy. The momentum went their way then it went our way. I guess the turkeys helped. They’re our mojo.’’
Nobles said the turkeys get some credit.
“I give credit to the turkeys, the team, the coaches. It took all three of them,’’ he said. “When that ball went in the air for the last out, I just had to catch it. It was emotional.’’