Alan Cannell appreciates his role on the Greenbrier baseball team. Maybe that's because he's had a tough time working his way up the ladder to become a starter.
When Greenbrier coaches made their final cuts before the start of this season, Cannell was surprised to make the team, especially after missing the entire 2000 season with an elbow injury.
"Each year, I kept telling myself that I didn't have a chance to make the team," said Cannell, whose left-handed arm has become a staple of Greenbrier's pitching rotation.
"Those guys were always so much more experienced and so much faster than I was. But during the off-season (after elbow surgery), I worked hard to prepare myself mentally and physically. When I saw my name on the roster, I was surprised."
Cannell has made the most of his opportunities, which is one of the reasons why the Wolfpack will meet Columbus Shaw in the Class AAAA state semifinals Friday. The doubleheader begins at 1:30 p.m. with Game 3, if needed, at 1 p.m. Saturday.
The Greenbrier senior is counted on not only as a pitcher, but also for his clutch hitting. His fielder's choice in the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 1 on Saturday scored the winning run and helped him become the winning pitcher as the Wolfpack took a 10-9 victory.
Cannell's RBI double in the top of the seventh in Game 2 scored the go-ahead run to help the Wolfpack to a 7-4 victory and the series sweep of Alexander.
As successful as the latter part of the season has been for Cannell, the start of the season wasn't exactly rosy for him.
"I remember catching Alan down in the bullpen (during tryouts)," catcher Robert Davis said. "Coach (Ed Williams) was watching somebody else take batting practice, and Alan was throwing some good stuff.
"He threw about five pitches, walked off the field and threatened to quit. I asked him what was wrong because he was throwing some good stuff. He told me coach wasn't paying much attention to him. He's done an excellent job for us."
The hero of Greenbrier's third-round series wasn't satisfied with just making the team. He wanted to pitch and, most of all, he wanted a chance to display his hitting ability. He figured if he got to pitch at all, it would be in some mop-up roles, maybe an inning or two after the offense had built an insurmountable lead.
A chance to hit seemed out of the question.
"At the beginning of the season, he wasn't in any hitting group," senior Bradley Key said of Cannell. "But it was funny because I remember he used to ask coach if he could hit. One day coach said 'All right Alan, you've got five swings. If you hit one out, everybody gets a Power Ade.
"We all got free Power Ades after Alan hit one out."
Williams said he got the message that Cannell could hit when he gave away "more Power Ades than he should."
Cannell made his mark against Burke County ace pitcher Jonathan Broxton late in the regular season with two doubles and an RBI. Williams liked what he saw and moved Cannell into the No. 4 spot in the hitting lineup, a place he's been since.
"All season, when I saw the lineup card, I saw Chad Thornhill or Robert Davis batting No. 3 and No. 4," Cannell said. "I never saw myself hitting No. 4. That's something amazing."
In addition to his school and baseball responsibilities, Cannell works the late shift, mopping, waxing and buffing floors at the Bi-Lo grocery store in Millen, Ga., on many Friday nights. Williams can't help but to admire Cannell's dedication.
"He appreciates the opportunity to play," the Greenbrier coach said. "He was very patient for his time to come. When his time came, he made the most it. It's good to be around people like that."
Reach Tim Morse at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.