Westwood star pitcher Douglas Nobles, who was the winning pitcher in Game 1 and then was on the mound for the final out in Game 3, hoists the championship trophy. At the plate, Nobles was 5-for-9 with two home runs, four RBI, five runs and three walks. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CAMILLA — Douglas Nobles couldn’t feel his arm.
But he felt something else.
“For the first time in my life, I feel like a champion,’’ said Nobles, who walked off the mound in tears Saturday after leading Westwood to the GISA Class A state title.
The tears were not because of the pain in his arm. It had something to do with what he felt in his heart. His eyes filled up and he hugged his father, then his teammates, then his coaches.
They were all hugging — these tough, hard-nose, never-quit kids from Westwood — right there in the middle of the diamond. They embraced each other, and embraced the moment, and no one wanted to let go.
That’s how it looked and felt for Westwood after the kids from Camilla had somehow outlasted a gutsy, no-quit group from Crisp Academy to win the best-of-three series with a rubber game for the ages — a game that felt like it would never end and a series that seemed too good to ever end.
Finally, after two days, three games and more than 50 runs in Georgia heat, Westwood hung on to beat Crisp, 12-11, in Game 3 to win the school’s first state baseball title since 1988, avenging last year’s state title loss to Crisp — a bitter, gut-wrenching loss that hung over the Westwood program for 12 months.
This memory will last even longer. Neither team will forget this series.
Westwood (21-4) won a wild and crazy opener on Friday, coming back and then hanging on, 8-7, but only after Crisp scored four runs in the seventh. Then Crisp saved its season by winning Game 2 on Saturday afternoon, 15-6, before Westwood won another wild one in a game Nobles said he was waiting to play his entire life.
Nobles was the winning pitcher in Game 1, and he started and finished Game 3. But before it was over Westwood coach Al Timmerman needed a calculator, a slide rule, a Ph.D. in mathematics and an official ruling from the GISA to figure out how many innings Nobles could pitch.
Fortunately, Tommy Whittle, the executive secretary for GISA who oversees sports, was at the game and Timmerman went to him directly for the answer.
GISA rules state a pitcher can throw 10 innings in a two-day period, but it came down to fractions with Nobles, who pitched six innings on Friday and started the seventh, but didn’t get anyone out. He pitched three shutout innings and walked one batter in the fourth in Game 3.
When all was said and done, Nobles had 1/3 of an inning left as the two teams headed into the seventh with Westwood leading, 12-8. Just like in Game 1, Crisp came back again, scoring three runs in the seventh on singles by Robby Wright and James Bodrey, a two-run single by Hunter Chambers and a sacrifice fly from Justin McKinney to close to 12-11. But McKinney’s sac-fly was the second out of the inning, and Timmerman called on Nobles for the final out. Nobles walked Hunter Cook and then got Blaine Phillips to hit a grounder to second.
Kaleb Bentley, who suffered a broken wrist when he was hit by a pitch in Game 1 but played in all three games, tossed the ball to Caleb Morrell for the force out at second to set off the celebration at Westwood and heartbreak at Crisp.
“My heart stopped about four or five times in the last inning,’’ Timmerman said. “It was planned (to save Nobles for one out in the seventh). When I told him, he jumped on the mound. I didn’t know what he had left. He had enough! It was more heart than arm that got that last out.’’
Nobles just wanted the ball.
“I had to get one more out,’’ said Nobles, who threw 128 pitches on Friday and 150 over the two days. “I told them: ‘Give it to me!’ I wanted it that bad. Words can’t describe how bad I wanted to win this. I’ve played my whole life for a championship, and I got it.’’
It was Nobles who said he was heartbroken a year ago after he threw six no-hit innings and lost to Crisp, 2-1, in the state finals. He said earlier this week he wanted “redemption.”
And it was Nobles who delivered the final blow at the plate. He hit his 11th homer of the season in Game 2 on Saturday, and hit his 12th in the sixth inning of Game 3 — a solo shot that lifted Westwood to a 12-8 lead, and a run that proved to be the difference.
“I told my guys they could blame me for the loss,’’ Crisp Academy coach John Penney said. “The difference in the game was Nobles’ home run. It was my call. I called for the pitch that Nobles hit for a home run in the sixth. I called for a curveball and he went out and got it.’’
After the game, Timmerman just smiled, thinking of Nobles’ shot in the sixth.
“I don’t think that ball has landed yet,’’ he said.
It may take Westwood a while to land, but it didn’t take the Camilla kids long to regroup Saturday. Crisp came back with a vengeance — and Bodrey, the ace of the staff — in Game 2.
Bodrey’s six-inning performance (four runs, five hits and six strikeouts) was inspirational. He left Game 1 on Friday with dehydration, but took the mound with courage and a nasty curveball on Saturday. He picked up his ninth win of the season and ninth in a row. He lost on opening day and never lost again. He gave up home runs to J.T. Edore and Nobles but was never in trouble.
He had plenty of help. Phillips hit a leadoff homer in the first and the next three batters — Jake Smith, Jordan Howard and Wright — all singled to ignite a seven-run first inning that was capped off by a grand slam by Cook. Chambers had a two-run single in the second and a two-run double in the fifth and Crisp won easily to force the deciding game between the two rivals who split two games in the regular season.
Crisp (18-8) was there until the end.
“They fought back. They never quit,’’ Penney said. “I’ve coached a lot of teams but never coached one with as much heart as this one.’’
After being roughed up in Game 2, Westwood had 30 minutes to regroup.
“After the way they beat us in Game 2, we could have rolled over,’’ Timmerman said. “We got it handed to us in Game 2. It was kind of embarrassing. We challenged them. We told them second place was not an option.’’
Nobles — who had a monster series at the plate, going 5-for-9 with two home runs, four RBI and five runs — left with a 2-0 lead, thanks to freshman Jacques Irvin’s infield single in the second that brought home two runs when the throw to first sailed high. But Crisp came back to take a 3-2 lead on Caleb Morrell in a wild fourth that saw three walks, two singles, a passed ball that brought home a run a balk that brought home a run and an RBI single by Culpepper.
But Crisp’s wild fourth paled in comparison to Westwood’s fifth inning that seemed to last forever — and will be remembered around Camilla for the next generation.
Thanks to Westwood’s incredible bottom of the order of Tyler Classen, who hit .588 in the playoffs, Bentley, and Irvin — all freshmen — Westwood had an inning for the ages, sending 14 to the plate and scoring nine runs to take a 11-3 lead. The threesome started the inning and reached base a total of six times and scored four runs. Classen, who scored four times in the series, walked and singled. Bentley, who had trouble swinging the bat because of his broken wrist, had two bunt singles, and Irvin singled and walked. The inning was highlighted by a monster shot from freshman Chason Worsham and a double from Morrell. Mason Worsham and Nobles also had RBI singles.
Mason, the All-State quarterback who led Westwood to a 26-0 stretch and back-to-back state football titles, had another brilliant series behind the plate. He did a little of everything (four hits, six runs and three stolen bases while throwing out two runners and blocking just about everything at the plate).
“I can’t feel my legs,’’ he said after the long day. “But it feels great to win. This is my last game in high school, and it’s a championship. What a great way to end my high school career.’’
The nine-run inning proved to be the difference.
“I just didn’t know when the merry-go-round was going to stop,’’ Timmerman said. “I was hoping for a few more runs. I knew they were going to come back.’’
Timmerman joked later about a couple of decoy turkeys that had been Westwood’s good luck charms down the stretch.
“George and Nancy pulled us through,” Timmerman said of the turkeys, which were named after country singer George Jones and his wife.
Morrell, who had a tremendous and gutsy performance on the mound by pitching early in Game 2, and then coming back and giving Westwood 3 2/3 innings in Game 3, never saw the rally.
“It was so hot I was just in the dugout with a wet towel on my head drinking Gatorade,’’ he said. “I was just looking down (resting). I didn’t see much of it, but I heard it.’’
His father, former Pelham A.D. and football coach Jim Morrell, had given his son some advice before Caleb entered Game 3 in the fourth. He knew Caleb could have been rattled after the tough start in Game 2.
“I just told him to go out there and have fun,’’ said Jim Morrell, who embraced his son and had tears of his own after the win.
“We just had to throw everything we had at them,’’ Caleb said. “And we did. Winning (the state title), I don’t even know how to put it. I don’t have words.’’
Chason Worsham, a freshman, had words for everyone.
He praised the bottom of the order, calling them clutch and, “The key to the series.”
He also marveled at Nobles, saying, “He’s a fighter. I don’t know how he did it.’’
Then he paused and talked about winning it all.
“It feels like a dream,’’ he said. “It just feels like a dream.’’