Posted June 1, 2007 04:19 pm - Updated June 1, 2007 10:54 pm

Class AAAA State Championship Series -- Live from Greenbrier

This blog will be updated live from the Class AAAA state championship series between Heritage and Greenbrier.

Scroll down to the bottom of the blog for the most recent updates from the Class AAAA state title series in Evans.

Pre-game observation #1: It looks like most of the Greenbrier team shaved their heads for today's series. I mean the fellas looked like a Great Clips commercial standing down the third-base line during the national anthem. Nothing like team unity and ticked-off girlfriends. I'm sure the boys get away it because of the "everyone's doing it" and the "it's for the state title series" comebacks.

That's a good kind of peer pressure. I guess.

Pre-game observation #2: Wow, the Heritage fans can really buy up the gas and take a ride down I-20. This crowd is bigger than last year's state final against Marist. Easy.

"We're excited," Heritage fan June Brayton said. "It's been a long time for us. But I'm excited and nervous. I love our boys. We've got a good team. But I am a little nervous. And I am even a Florida Gators fan. And we're not supposed to be the nervous type." 

It's also the biggest crowd that I have seen here in my four seasons of covering Greenbrier baseball for the Chronicle.

Recap of the top of the first: Greenbrier senior Brandon Cumpton needed 15 pitches to get out of the first inning. He stuck out leadoff Patriot Brent Allen. He then forced a 1-0 grounder to second for the next out of the inning.

Heritage freshman Tyler Austin had a great at-bat getting a chance to look through just about every pitch in Cumton's repertoire. Cumpton finally got him on a shallow foul pop to right.

Going into the bottom of the first inning in Game One: Greenbrier 0, Heritage 0

4:15 PM: Greenbrier is already getting to Heritage senior righty Taylor Whitenton. Leadoff wolf Jeff Rowland smacked a first-pitch fastball to center. Nolan Belcher then ripped an 0-2 pitch to center for another single.

Greenbrier's Pat McGowan stuck on trying to sacrifice those boys over. Brandon Cumpton walked. The bases are currently full for Wolfpack junior Ryan Cato.

Lots of drama already.

Heritage escaped that jam in the bottom of the first. Cato grounded out to second and left the bases loaded.

End of the first inning: Greenbrier 0, Heritage 0

3:25 PM: Two things. The Heritage fans apparently love their coach.

"God bless Casey Teal," one section of what appeared to be students shouted in his direction at the end of the first. "The man. The myth. We love you Coach Teal."

It's a series already. One throng of Heritage fans are complaining about the vocal nature of the Greenbrier dugout.

"Where are your pom poms and skirts boys?" the Heritage booster behind my firt-base line seat said. "You guys sure can cheer." 

Truth be told, Greenbrier's dugout is doing a good impersonation of a softball dugout.

But I am not going to shoot them down for being pumped up. After all, this is the state championships and not just another region square dance with Richmond Academy.

Cumpton walked the first Patriot up in the top of the second. Heritage sacrificed him to second. Then the future Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket on the mound for the home team struck out Heritage freshman Theo Griffin.

Heritage starting pitcher Taylor Whitenton is sitting on second with two out. Senior Taylor Eisenman is up with a 3-1 count for the visiting team.

Cumpton didn't let that walk hurt him. He induced another grounder to second to get out of the inning.

Middle of the second inning: Greenbrier 0, Heritage 0

Greenbrier's first hitter to the plate was hit by a pitch. But Whitenton is wiggling out of trouble. He's got back-to-back outs and due to a fielders' choice he has a runner at first.

Jeff Rowland is up. He just crushed a double. I don't think there's a better leadoff hitter in the state. He now has hits in five of his last eight playoff at-bats. I mean, the kid used to sleep with his bat growing up. That's what he told me.

It seems his bat shares the same affection for the young man his team call J-Ro.

Belcher was walked intentionally to load the bases. There are two outs. Junior OF/P Pat McGowan is up for the Pack.

McGowan walked to score Damien Lucree. Lucree reached on that fielder's choice. Brandon Cumpton is up with the bases loaded. Cumpton leads the Greenbrier team in RBI.

Cumpton swung and missed at strike three. Whitenton did his job. But Cumpton reached first on a passed ball. Rowland came home.

A two-run lead looks pretty daunting with Cumpton on the mound now. Russ Winter struck out looking to end the Greenbrier threat.  

End of the second; Greenbrier 2, Heritage 0

4:55 PM: Here's a nomination for the Greenbrier concession stand as the top food service station in the state playoffs. Any sport.

What the Greenbrier facility lacks in bleachers it seems to make up for with taste-bud teases. I mean, the P.A. announced just stated that they have sweet tea and lemonade at the concession stand.

That's on top of the Logan's Roadhouse peanuts. the Dippin' Dots ice cream and the standard hot dog, Powerade, cheeseburger, nachos, candy and hamburger fare.

Top of the third inning update: Cumpton just got touched up for his first hit of the day. And an extra-base hit at that. Heritage junior catcher Chunk Smith (great name for a catcher) just doubled with one out.

Leadoff hitter Brent Allen just singled. Smith's pinch-runner was held up at third.

We're in the top of the third inning. Heritage has runners at the corners with one out.

Greenbrier 2, Heritage 0

Cumpton just threw wide of the bag trying to nip Allen at first. Heritage pinch runner Joseph Lester strolled home from third with an easy run.

That's a free 90 feet for the Patriots. That's what Marist coach Mike Strickland said was the kind of play that would decide this series.

Cumpton has one out. Heritage has a runner at second. Trent Dooley just singled.

But Allen was thrown out by Game Two starter Nolan Belcher from right. One hop. No cut. Allen was out by three steps.

We're still in the top of the third. Two out. Dooley is at first. Heritage freshman third baseman Tyler Austin  is up.

Greenbrier 2, Heritage 1

Cumpton just gave up another 90 feet. His wild pitch moved Dooley up to second and in scoring position. 

He recovered with the next Patriot. He had to go to his tush to glove a foul ball just wide of the third-base line. He lost the ball, but found it at the last moment. That's it for the Pats in the top of the third.

Junior Ryan Cato comes up first in the bottom of the inning. It's the 5-6-7 hitters in the Greenbrier lineup.

Consider Cumpton lucky for that turn. He allowed three hits. One of those was a double. He also threw it to the chain-link fence in right on a botched pick-off attempt. He even hit the backstop with a wild pitch.

One run amidst all that bad stuff is a pretty fair trade if I'm the pitcher and the home team.

End of the third inning: Consider Taylor Whitenton and his Patriots to be ten feet tall right now. His squad got a boost by scratching out that lone run in the top of the third off Cumpton.

Whitenton struck out the side. He's up first for his team in the top of the fourth.

We're heading to the top of the fourth inning. Greenbrier 2, Heritage 1.

Cumpton appears to have settled into a mini-groove. He put Heritage down in order with two strikeouts. He's given up three hits, one run and struck out four so far on the day.

Here's a nugget as to just how big the crowd has swelled to at Greenbrier today: There are at least 70 fans sitting in chairs or looking through the chain-link fence from the outfield. There may even be 100.

We're now in the bottom of the fourth. There is one out. Greenbrier base-hit machine Jeff Rowland is up. Greenbrier leads Heritage 2-1.

It looks like Whitenton is feeling the same ills that got to Cumpton in the top of third.

He walked Rowland. Then threw it wide of the first-base bag. Rowland advanced to second. He then threw a wild pitch to Belcher. That moved Rowland up to third.

He's currently still working on Belcher. Belcher has hit two balls to right foul that went about 650 feet. Just a bit foul.

Whitenton just hit Belcher in the left thigh with a pitch. Those are three free 90-feet plays for the Wolfpack in the bottom of this inning.

Here's a thought: Every run today has been a giveaway so far. Greenbrier scored its two runs on a passed ball and a walk. Heritage's came on an errant Cumpton pick-off try to first.

It sure looks like that Mike Strickland at Marist knows his baseball. He called this when speaking to him earlier in the week.

Scratch that. McGowan just got his second RBI and erased the aforementioned "giveaway" theory. He sacrificed Rowland home from third.

Still in the bottom of the fourth. There are two out. Belcher is still sitting at first.

Greenbrier 3, Heritage 1.

OK, I've seen enough of the Heritage team to come up with this fact. I don't think they can beat Greenbrier today. The team is just not sound enough defensively to hang with the elite pitching Greenbrier brings to bear.

They give away too many easy outs. Maybe they are just not ready for the level of pressure that comes with a state title series.

The Wolfpack's fourth run was the by-product of more gaffes that give Wolfpack runners free trips from station-to-station on the bases.

Belcher stole second and then took third as the throw from Heritage catcher Chunk Smith sailed into the outfield. Cumpton was then issued a walk. Ball four was a wild pitch in the dirt.

Belcher sailed in from third with the fourth run of the day so far for the Pack.

Any team has to know that it has to throw and catch to hang in a state playoff series. Forget about the special plays with superior pitching and anything a club might do with the bats.

Greenbrier just scored two runs during that turn at the plate without the benefit of a hit. There were two errors. A wild pitch. A walk. And a hit batter.

Brandon Cumpton is not going to give up another three runs today in three innings. That's what my gut tells me.

From what I've seen so far, I think Heritage will also give the Wolfpack another run with the easy stuff and outs that should have been made in the field.

They've buried themselves a hole. It's one that I don't think they can come back from in this first game.

We're heading into the top of the fifth inning. Greenbrier 4, Heritage 1.

Now playing the role of Terminator on the mound is Brandon Cumpton. He struck out the first two Patriots up in the fifth to push his game total to six K's. He then got a grounder to short to move us to the bottom of the fifth.

Cumpton looks like a kid who just downed a Red Bull between innings. He's retired the seven Heritage hitters in a row.

I honestly can't recall him looking any better than he is right now in this year or last year's playoffs. It's getting guys out and getting them out quickly, too.

Hats off to him. He's really dealing with the baseball right now.

We're in the bottom of the fifth now. Greenbrier's Adam King is up with one out. Greenbrier leads Heritage 4-1.

Broken record time here. King just reached an a ball that hopped between the legs of the Heritage shortstop.

The visiting Patriots just aren't playing at the level this stage of the state baseball playoffs demands. And those misplays take a toll mentally on a underdog team facing the defending state champions on their own home turf.

Nick Page just single King over to third. Damien Lucree is up.

More broken record stuff: Heritage had Nick Page in a rundown. But the pitcher didn't come over in the chase to cover first base. No team can win playing like this. No team.

All the Wolfpack are safe. Lucree just walked. Rowland is up. Rowland may just hit this ball all the way to our blog visitors from Aruba and really put this first game away.

Rowland's 2-for-2 with a walk today. The thought of that just chased Whitenton from the game. Sophomore Chase Ware is now warming up for the Patriots.

6:56 PM: The blog lives! We had power issues at Greenbrier. So we had to go boy scout time a bit. I tried to think like McGyver.

I moved my car up to the edge of the field. Borrowed an inverter from a kind soul. Had an extension cord in the back of my trunk. Our extension cord and snake line to the Greenbrier dugout went kaput. We're now running an extension cord from my car adapter from the first row of the parking lot (foul ball kill zone, I know) to the press table.

I skated on battery power for five innings of the first game. The power bar I thought I was plugged into taking juice from the Greenbrier dugout was apparently dead to the world.

Either that or the Greenbrier bats sucked up all the power for use at the plate in their 10-3 victory in the first game of today's doubleheader.  

But you guys would rather hear about baseball than technical difficulties.

So we're live again. Greenbrier is leading off the top of the first in Game Two.

Oh...and while we were in limbo. Greenbrier's (30-4) six-run fifth inning finished out the scoring for the home team along a 10-3 win.

Cumpton gave up a two-run homer to fab Hertiage freshman Tyler Austin in the sixth. Not much doing after that.

We're in the top of the first in Game Two. Greenbrier's Pat McGowan just made the third out. Nolan Belcher is heading to the mound to start today's second game.  

We're now in the middle of the first inning. Greenbrier 0, Heritage 0

7:02: First flash of good news so far today for the Patriots. Heritage senior outfielder Trent Dooley took Belcher deep for a solo home run in the bottom of the first. That was the only scoring in the bottom of the inning.

Heritage 1, Greenbrier 0

7:09 PM: Psst. Wanna hear an insider secret? If you want to see the second game of the series tonight but just didn't know if it was worth the $7 ticket price, have I got a deal for you.

Rumor has it that the ticket takers at Greenbrier will stop selling tickets at 7:15 PM. So if you are part cheapskate and part Wolfpack baseball fan, then consider that your our green-light special.

Between game observation #1: What's a baseball program? How about this example. Not one but two wiffle ball/baseball games broke out on the Greenbrier football practice field adjacent to the stadium between games. I'd say there was about 15 kids on each team hitting-and-throwing on about a 50-yard stretch of football practice field apiece.

Not bad. And that crowd that is behind the outfield fence at Greenbrier has just swelled significantly. There's at least 125 people sitting in tailgate chairs back there now.

Anyhoo, back to baseball. Greenbrier just tied it with RBI single by Adam King with runners on the corners. Cumpton reached on a double during a long back-and-forth at-bat. Cumpton ran for himself as he is playing third in today's second game.

There are two out in the top of the second. Greenbrier has runners on first and second. Greenbrier 1, Heritage 1.

7:18 PM: Greenbrier just managed that one run in the top of the second. Belcher already has two Patriots out in the bottom of the inning.

He seems to be the perfect mix of ticked and composed. Ticked because he gave up the home run. Composed because that's the kind of competitor that the kid is.

He's about six innings and one run away from pitching his team to its third state championship trophy in his three years of high school ball.

In about the time it took me to type that sentence, he's out of the inning.

We're heading to the top of the third inning. All square. Greenbrier 1, Hertiage 1. The Wolfpack extended their win streak to 28 games with their victory in the first game.

Jeff Rowland is now up. My computer is now at 51% power and heading up like Bill Gates' stock interests and 401(k) plan.

Good stuff here. A glass is half-full Heritage fan just grabbed the school's banner and trotted it behind the outfield wall while Rowland was up.

He had to be distracted by that. Heritage's infielders are grinning. I think that had to gnaw at Rowland a little bit. He was only 14-for-27 in the state playoffs leading up to that at-bat with 13 runs scored. Much thanks to Billy Byler of the Columbia County News-Times for those stats.

It was a funny sight, though. A big blue H just took a lap behind the Greenbrier outfield. It's the sort of banners on a pole we are all used to seeing cheerleaders lead their team onto the field with during football games in the fall.

Nolan Belcher is now up. He just hit a tough grounder to second. The Heritage second baseman promptly booted the ball on what was by all accounts a tougher-than-average play.

My inner scorekeeper would still call that an error. Heritage has made a lot of those today. Case in point: The six Heritage errors in the first game led to eight unearned runs.

That's right. Eight of the 10 runs that Greenbrier scored in its 10-3 first game victory were unearned.

A now-suddenly spirited Heritage fan base has all pulled out the three quarters and 50 pennies in a bottled water bit. They're shaking them like they are the team that's up a game in the series.

Greenbrier 1, Heritage 1. We're in the top of the third inning.  Two out. Belcher is still on first.

7:28 PM: Greenbrier did no damage in the top of the third. We're now in the bottom of the inning. Belcher has two out and nobody on.

The Heritage fans are deafening right now. It's a loud crowd. I will give them that.

Trivia Question of the day: What beverage of choice does the Greenbrier coaching staff (all sports) usually drink these days?

Answer: Green tea. That's a true story. I give credit to Billy Byler of the News-Times for sharing that one with me.

So if you're in the coaches office and go rooting through the fridge, you're either going to find green tea or bottled water. That tradition started last year with former baseball coach Ed Williams (now the assistant principal at the school) and girls basketball/softball coach/advance baseball scout Garrett Black.

7:33 PM: Belcher held the Patriots scoreless in the bottom of the third. We're now in the top of the fourth. Nobody out. Greenbrier senior catcher and honor graduate Russ Winter is up.

That overzealous Heritage flag is taking another lap right past the outfield fence here at Greenbrier. I wonder if that is the same kid. About two or three laps like that and any body who's not in good shape will have to give that trek up.

Hmm. Wonder why they don't do that when their team is up at the plate? Nothing like gamesmanship here in the state finals. It's awfully distracting at the plate. For the same reason that major league baseball protects that hitter's eye area at major league parks.

Ryan Cato just singled for the Wolfpack. Adam King just followed that up with a single of his own. Two Wolfpack runners are on. Brent Allen is still pitching for the Patriots. There is just one out. Those runners are on first and second. 

Nick Page just struck out. Damien Lucree is up. He was smoking hot coming into the playoffs today. He has yet to get a hit in this series.

Lucree just walked. Jeff Rowland comes up now for the Pack with the bases loaded and two men out. I think that's the situation every Greenbrier fan in the house wants to see.

Here's a bet that this at-bat decides this game.

7:45 PM: Allen just struck out Rowland. This game just got a lot tighter. Heritage's fans just got a lot louder.

Greenbrier athletics director Scott Chadwick (real nice guy) just came by with an attendance figure. He says there was about 1,800 paid here for today's game. Plus another 250 attendees on GHSA passes.

That's about 2,100 people here for this game.

We're in the bottom of the fourth inning now. Greenbrier 1, Heritage 1

7:55 PM: Who's heard that Centerfield  song by John Fogerty? Think a minute. "It's the put me in, Coach. I'm ready to play" song that was made famous in the movie Bull Durham that is now played at every ballpark in the country.

Ever listen to the words of that song? I know. It's sounds like pure Americana and baseball. Or at least it used to.

I just heard a line from that song. It goes "A-round third. And heading home. It's a brown-eyed handsome man. Any one can understand. The way I feel."

I just stopped for a second to rewind what I have been listening to for like 15 years.

What is there about a brown-eyed handsome man that screams baseball to me? And Americana? Brown-eyed handsome men rounding third is not the Norman Rockwell vision in my mind of the game of baseball to me.

But that's just my $0.02. Am i missing something?

OK, I'll halt my Seinfeld rant there. Nolan Belcher ended the bottom of the fourth with a bare-handed snatch of a grounder hit back to the mound. Great play. It just looked a bit cocky, though. Smooth play all around, though.

He then led off the fourth with a double. Belcher looked like he thought it was out by his body language rounding first. It was still a deep deep ball that kicked off the middle of the left field wall.

Heck of an opposite field hit. Belcher's run just scored, too. Ross Scott was running for him. He got home off another Heritage error. That is the eighth of the series by the visitors. Eight errors. That's in 11 innings of the state championship series.

Pat McGowan missed a bunt attempt and popped out. Brandon Cumpton was walked. He came home when the Patriots tried to turn two off a Russ Winter ground ball.

Hertiage threw wild and in the dirt between second and first trying to get Winter at first. Cumpton went in hard at second to make it a much tougher play.

That may raise a few Heritage eyes. But that's good hard baseball. Nothing less should be expected at this level of the state playoffs.

Belcher's run came in on the error. Ross Scott was running for him. That was the only score of the top of the fourth. Greenbrier 2, Heritage 1. We're heading into the bottom of the fifth now.

Belcher has since settled down considerably. He seems to have control of this game as much as any one player can in the game of baseball right now.

He's struck out five of the last six Patriot hitters he's faced. He needed just 21 pitches to get through those two innings. He has walked one batter. The one hit he gave up was the first-inning solo home run by Dooley.

Dooley was the second hitter of the game. Greenbrier was Nick Page was the first man up in the top of sixth. No outs. Damien Lucree is up.

Another throwing error by the Patriots with Page at first. They tried to get him at first. He's now standing at third. That's nine errors in 13 innings.

That is not the stuff of champions. Page just came home off a sacrifice fly by Damien Lucree. 

There are two men out in the top of the sixth. Jeff Rowland is up. Greenbrier 3, Heritage 1. 

Rowland just struck out swinging for the fourth time in this game. Kudos go out to the Heritage coaching staff. That's superior scouting on a hitter that came into today 14-for-27 with 13 runs scored in the state playoffs.

Heritage is now getting set to hit in the bottom of the sixth.

Greenbrier 3, Hertiage 1

8:20 PM: Nolan "No-No" Belcher looking dominant update: He's now fanned six out of the last seven Heritage hitters, including the last four in a row.

He's basically saying this is my game, our series and our trophy. You're not taking this from us today. If anyone can name a more productive high school pitcher in Columbia County or area history, please let me know.

If this holds up, Belcher would move to 35-1 in his prep career with an average of well over a strikeout per inning. His ERA will be well below 1.00 and he's got a senior year still to go.

Best schoolboy baseball player I've ever seen. I'm not talking talent. I'm talking performance. He added a fly out and another strikeout. That's a strikeout of seven of the last nine Patriots. He has 10 strikeouts through six innings and a one-hit game.

We're in the top of the seventh inning now. Greenbrier 3, Heritage 1.

Greenbrier won the first game of today's best-of-3 series 10-3. The Wolfpack stand three outs shy of their program's fifth state baseball title since opening the school doors in 1996 and beginning with the 1997 baseball season.

It would also be Greenbrier's 29th consecutive win. Senior Taylor Adams is now up for Greenbrier with nobody out in the top of the seventh inning.  

8:32 PM. Two more outs to go. Belcher made a heck of a play to snatch a grounder ranging to his right. Bullet throw to first. Runner is out by a step.

8:34 PM: Belcher just gave up a stand-up double to Heritage senior Taylor Whitenton. That brings the tying run to the plate. That is the second hit allowed by Belcher in the game. 

One out left to go. Damien Lucree makes a great stab-and-throw to first. Whitenton moved up to third.

8:35 PM: Not good news for the Wolfpack. Lucree's throwing error puts the tying run at first. Whitenton comes in on the play.

Greenbrier 3, Heritage 2. Two out in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Game over. Nasty Belcher curve. 11th strikeout. 3-2 final. 29th straight win. Fifth state title. I think Belcher can barely breathe at the bottom of one serious dog-pile a few steps in front of the mound.

Thanks for hanging out, folks. It's been fun.