Originally created 06/02/06

Greenbrier's time has come



Players come and go. They practice. They play games.

The wonder is what they do when they don't have to act like a team. When there's no coach, no practice or schedule telling them they need to go along and get along.

What do they do then?

The answer for Greenbrier is everything. It's a big reason why the Wolfpack play host to Marist at 3 p.m. today, with the Class AAAA state championship on the line.

"This team has a bigger mix of personalties than any other team since I've been here," senior first baseman Tim Thornhill said. Some people you work to get along with. We're like a family. You eat with your family."

Take the fried chicken the team has gobbled up as much this season as fastballs. A couple of times per week, the Bojangles restaurant closest to the school has an all-you-can-eat special. Once or twice per week, the Wolfpack can be found there.

"This is what we do after practice," Greenbrier junior Jeff Rowland said. "It's our place. We've hung out here for two or three hours after practice."

The boys do the things all boys do.

They eat. Then laugh and tease. They play cards. One player chases a girl, before he eats some more. This is their Cheers. They are all Norm Peterson.

"No other team I will play on in my life will be like this," said Greenbrier senior Rich Poythress, who will have the whole team spend the night at his house tonight. "We've never had a bunch of guys like this. We hang out. We go fishing. We're a team, but we're a bunch of guys that will be friends for our entire lives."

The numbers

The Wolfpack (33-1) have scored 339 runs in 34 games. They've given up 54. A CNN/SI online poll ranks the Wolfpack No. 10 in the nation. USA Today's latest national ranking has them at No. 22. If not for an eight-error blowup that led to a 7-5 loss in the state quarterfinals, the record would be perfect.

The team discussed that lone blemish waiting in line at Bojangles on Wednesday night.

"We'd be undefeated if it wasn't for me," junior fireballer Brandon Cumpton said, who took the loss despite pitching well.

What was said next was proof the team's chemistry is still perfect.

"Nope," senior shortstop Chris Johnson said. "It wasn't just you or any one person. It didn't matter whether it was you or Nolan (Belcher) who was pitching. We all play for Greenbrier. That means that one loss is on all of us."

Hungry

Poythress weighs around 230 pounds. He's eaten at least that many chicken legs and biscuits this spring. The team - 16 or 17 players strong at some points - has eaten the franchise out of chicken on occasion.

The destination makes sense. It's a close post-practice meal, and the booths have green seats.

The team made up a game for practice. It involves the restaurant's sweet biscuits. The Bo Berry is their edible trophy.

Johnson can't count how many of those he has eaten.

"We had this game we would do in batting practice," Johnson said. "If you get a hit you stay up at the plate until you don't. The guy who stayed up at the plate the longest and collected the most hits and points for all of his hits got a Bo Berry. It was like a bet. The guys in every group who lost would have to buy the guy who won a Bo Berry biscuit."

Rowland is the leadoff hitter, but he might be the cleanup eater.

"It's either Jeff Rowland or 'Phud' (Johnson) who eats the most," Thornhill said. "On all-you-can-eat nights, 'Phud' will eat at least two or three plates full."

Fourth helping

Poythress has started all four years for the Wolfpack. The courtyard he passes each day before practice contains signs honoring the team's 1997, 1998 and 1999 Class AAA state champions.

"I look at them walking to practice each day," Poythress said earlier this year.

"I make sure to look at them when I don't feel like working hard or going all-out. That's all the motivation I need. That lets me know about just what's expected out of the players at this program."

He mentioned them this week over a plate of fried chicken.

"I still look at them every day," Poythress said. "But it's different. All I think about now is I'm ready to see number four. Number four comes this week."

Reach Jeff Sentell at (706) 823-3425 or jeff.sentell@augustachronicle.com.

TITLE ON THE LINE


THE CONTENDERS: Marist (23-11) at Greenbrier (33-1)


WHAT'S AT STAKE: Class AAAA state championship


BEST OF THREE SERIES: Game 1-3 p.m. today; Game 2-30 minutes after Game 1; Game 3-6 p.m. Saturday (if necessary). Tickets cost $7.