SAVANNAH - Raymond Alford doesn't consider himself greedy. In fact, he considers himself a team player.
But when Savannah Christian's Luke Dorman lifted a high fly ball to left center field with two outs in the seventh inning of Saturday's Class AAA baseball matchup, Alford found himself battling center fielder Brandon Andrews for the right to snag the game's final out.
Alford won the war, grabbing the pop fly to ignite a wild Swainsboro celebration.
For the first time since 1990, the Tigers will play in the state championship series after a 9-7 victory over Savannah Christian on Saturday afternoon at Raider Field. The Tigers (27-9) will travel to either Gainesville or Westminster on Friday for the Class AAA finals.
"When he (Dorman) lifted that last one, I think both Brandon and I were waiting to grab it," Alford said. "I wanted it; he wanted it. But I didn't give anybody much of a chance to catch it."
The school's only state championship came in 1951 when it played Class B baseball.
"This feeling is undescribable ... I can't put it into words," said Swainsboro pitcher Paul Terwilliger, who earned the save after retiring the final four batters in the game.
"Just think, the thing every single school in the state set out to do on Feb. 12 when baseball season started, we're fixing to do. Just to know all the hard work and those long days have been worth it."
Swainsboro's roller coaster run through the state playoffs continues for another series. With the exception of last weekend's sweep of Loganville in the third round, the Tigers have made it a trademark to lose Game 1 of their best-of-three series, then rally to win Games 2 and 3 and advance another step.
Swainsboro did it against Westside in Round 1, Perry in the second round and Savannah Christian in the semifinals.
"That's not the way we plan them, and we'd rather not to do that," Swainsboro coach Hank Aldridge said. "If we could write the scripts, we'd go 1-2 in each series. But that's why I love this game so much. It's a humbling game ... nobody has ever mastered it, and nobody ever will."
The Tigers, who split with Savannah Christian during Region 2-AAA play this season, lost the opener of Friday's doubleheader, 7-1, before winning the second game, 9-2. That set up the rubber game to decide who would represent what is arguably Class AAA's best region in the state finals.
"We don't know how to quit," said catcher Rhett Womack, who was 3-for-4 with three RBI Saturday. His double in the sixth inning gave the Tigers an insurance run.
"When they were beating us 7-1 during the regular season and we came back and beat them 8-7, that gave us a lot of confidence against this team."
Swainsboro made easy work of Savannah Christian's pitchers, hammering out nine runs on 11 hits. Six of the Tigers' 11 hits went for extra bases.
Ashley Hooks picked up the victory after mowing down a lethal Savannah Christian offensive lineup for the first 5 2/3 innings.
"When we (start to) hit like that, it's contagious," said Hooks, who also went 2-for-4 from the plate. "Today, my fastball may have been the best it's been in a long time. But my curveball and change-up weren't working as well, probably because I was overthrowing them."
The Tigers scored three runs each in the second and third innings and two more in the fourth to grab an 8-4 lead. In fact, there was little drama until the top of the sixth, when the Raiders scored three runs to cut the Swainsboro lead to 8-7.
With Hooks running out of gas, Aldridge lifted the right-hander in favor of the left-handed Terwilliger, who had registered three wins and two saves in the state playoffs.
"He (Terwilliger) always finds a way to get it done," Womack said. "He always finds a way."
Reach Tim Morse at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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