For the second year in a row, Greenbrier's baseball team has earned a spot in the Class AAAA state championship series.
The Wolfpack won it all last season with a clean sweep of Marist in the state final. On Monday, Greenbrier sent the visiting War Eagles home again with 10-3 and 6-2 wins in the state semifinals.
Class AAAA No. 2 Greenbrier (29-4) will play host to No. 1 Heritage in the state championship series beginning Friday. That's when the Wolfpack have the potential to finish the school's 11th year of existence with a fifth state championship in baseball.
State title No. 4 came easily with last season's 35-1 team. This year has been another story.
"Last year's was expected. We were stacked," Greenbrier senior Jeff Rowland said. "This year was different. We worked hard last year, but this year we've had to work hard and then some just to get here."
Rowland teamed up with junior Nolan Belcher to put on a hitting exhibition in Game 1 of the doubleheader that Marist's batters couldn't match. The first two Greenbrier hitters in the lineup were a combined 6-for-6 and scored five of the seven times they came up.
After Rowland led off the game with a double to deep center field, Belcher drove him in with a single two pitches later. Both jump-started a five-run third inning with back-to-back singles and followed them up in the fourth with back-to-back triples.
"We know we've got to play good right now or go home," Belcher said. "Marist is a great team. You can never relax with them."
Greenbrier's offense produced 10 runs on 14 hits against Marist's John Pemberton and Billy Banks.
Wolfpack hurler Brandon Cumpton was also hit - but not as hard. The senior gave up three runs, all of them earned, on seven hits in a complete-game win. Belcher, the Game 2 starter, gave up two runs on six hits.
Even though both starters picked up complete-game wins, they sounded more apologetic than prideful. It was the hardest they've been hit in the state playoffs.
"They hit everything I threw at them," Belcher said. "They're a good hitting team, and they put the ball in play. Fortunately, I trust my defense, and they got the job done."
Greenbrier's defense committed only one error in 14 innings in the series while the Wolfpack bats supplied the necessary offense in Game 2.
After a wild pitch from John Stombridge plated the first Greenbrier run, senior Damien Lucree continued his postseason tear with an RBI single in the second inning. Lucree, the team's No. 9 hitter, went 5-for-6 and is 14-for-23 in postseason play.
Reach Billy Byler at (706) 863-6165 or firstname.lastname@example.org.