After getting smashed in Game 1 of the series by Brookwood, Deerfield players were all smiles after winning the do-or-die Game 2 on Saturday to stay alive. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
WHO:Deerfield (19-10) at Tattnall Square (25-7-1).
WHAT: GISA Class AAA state championship, best-of-three series.
WHEN: 6 p.m. Friday — Game 1; Game 2 will be 2 p.m. Saturday, followed immediately by Game 3, if necessary.
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ALBANY — Left-handed ace Jordan Bradshaw played hero for the Brookwood baseball team Friday, lifting the Warriors to a 1-0 series lead in the GISA Class AAA semifinals matchup with Deerfield.
Luckily for the Knights, they have a team full of heroes.
Weston King and Justin Glover pitched complete game gems, left fielder KE’Marvin Pitts made a pair of remarkable rally-ending catches and the Knights pounded out 18 hits Saturday to win Games 2 and 3 of the three-game series and advance to next weekend’s state championship against Tattnall Square.
The Knights, who will be looking to snap a 10-year state title drought next weekend, rolled in the opener, 11-1, in five innings and then came back from an early deficit in the nightcap to win, 6-3, and clinch a state championship berth.
It was a complete turnaround from Friday’s series opener, when the Knights lost, 9-2, to put their dream season on the brink of elimination.
“We got almost embarrassed (Friday),” said King, one of nine DWS seniors. “A characteristic of a championship team is somebody that can take a punch and still get back up. I think we did that (Saturday). We took a pretty good shot (Friday) and stood back up to the challenge.”
No one dug their cleats deeper into the dirt than King, who shut down the Warriors in the opener, allowing seven hits and one run and forcing Brookwood batters to fly out to trusty centerfielder Davis Hines for nine of their 15 outs.
Glover, a freshman left-hander, was equally as impressive, tossing seven strong innings and allowing six hits and three runs.
And a day after DWS pitchers walked eight Brookwood batters and hit three more, Glover and King combined to pitch 12 innings without a single walk or hit batsmen.
“Those two guys stood up there (Saturday) and pounded the strike zone,” said DWS coach Rod Murray, who is making his third state finals appearance in his sixth year as head coach — the last coming in 2011. “It was just a tremendous effort to help set the table for us.”
The only time Deerfield (19-10) trailed Saturday was when Brookwood (26-6) opened the second game with a leadoff double from James Casanova, who scored moments later on a Byron Strickland RBI single.
Three hitters later came the play that had the crowd at DWS buzzing for innings.
With two men on, Brookwood’s Cale Deese smashed a ball down the left field line, sending Pitts to the wall just to the right of the foul pole.
“The ball really carried, and I just worked my way back to the fence, and there it was,” said Pitts, who threw his mitt over the fence at the height of his jump and came down with the third out.
Brookwood coach Ken Johnson, standing in the third-base coaches’ box, was as amazed as anybody.
“Good Lord, how could he make that play?” said Johnson, reliving his reaction after the game to Pitts’ catch.
Pitts didn’t even need to look in his glove when he landed in front of the wall.
“I knew I had it,” the senior said with a smile as big as his catch. “I knew it”
Four innings later, Pitts conjured up another miracle.
With the tying run on second base in the top of the fifth, Brookwood’s Chandler Stencel hit a line drive to left field, but Pitts dove to his right after a full sprint to make the catch for the third out.
“That’s what made us successful on the mound (Saturday) was how good our defense was,” King said. “Plays like that give us confidence through the roof. We can trust our outfielders to go get the ball. (Pitts’ catches) gave us a lot of momentum.”
The Warriors, who had scored two runs in the fifth to pull within one run before Pitts’ catch, never threatened again. Deerfield, which scored two runs in each the third and fourth innings, scored once in the bottom of the fifth and again in the sixth, while Glover didn’t allow a hit in the final two innings to ease to a win.
The Knights are now two wins from their first state title since 2003 — a realization that stretched Pitts’ smile wider than when he talked about both of his remarkable catches.
“It feels great and it sounds great, because it’s history,” Pitts said. “Everybody wants to make history, and we have a shot at doing that.”
The Knights took their shots early in Saturday’s opener, jumping on Brookwood starter Strickland, who came into the game with a 12-1 record.
Deerfield scored three in each of the first two innings and then scored two in the third, one in the fourth and two in the fifth.
“Our backs were against the wall, and we came out swinging early,” King said. “I don’t think I can speak enough about our character. As bad as we got beat (Friday), we understood that (Saturday) was a new day. We came back ready to play.”
King is one of nine seniors who have so much more planned for this season.
“We know we have a lot of experience on this roster,” Murray said. “Nine seniors that don’t panic. The Deerfield athletes in all sports are going to compete till the end. The way the outfielders covered ground and the way the way dugout never got negative was all how our kids respond at this school.”
King (3-for-7, RBI) was one of six Knights who drove in runs Saturday, including Kh’Ron McClain (5-for-6, 2 RBI, 4 R), Harris Webb (2-for-7, 3 RBI, 3 R), Hines (2-for-5, 2 RBI) and Coleman Butler (2-for-6, 2 RBI).
The Knights will now have five days to prepare for Tattnall Square, which was 2-0 against Deerfield in the regular season, winning both in a pair of close games.
“We are going to prepare like normal,” said King, who added the pressure of bringing the baseball program its first state title in 10 years wasn’t overwhelming. “We know Tattnall well, and they know us well. Both teams will have good scouting reports, and hopefully we can take advantage of it.”