Pope combined for 26 runs off 25 hits in its doubleheader sweep of Greenbrier, en route to claiming the Class AAAAA state championship. The first game was an 11-7 victory in eight innings, while the nightcap was a 15-5 win that brought the mercy rule into effect.
Nathaniel Lowe’s walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 1 capped a wild ending that saw Pope (28-11) score its final nine runs with two outs.
The Greyhounds trailed 5-2 entering the bottom of the seventh, but made their first rally force extra innings. Greenbrier then plated two more in the top of the eighth before Pope erupted for six runs and the win.
Game 2 was even wilder as Pope trailed 3-2 after three innings, only to stake a 15-2 advantage after scoring 13 runs off 11 hits and sending 18 batters to the plate in the fourth inning.
Overall, the Greyhounds outscored the Wolf Pack 24-5 over six innings — the final two of Game 1 and the first four of the second game.
“Once you get us on a roll, there is no way we can be stopped,” said Lowe, a senior who combined to go 3-for-5 with five RBIs, three runs scored, a home run, a double and four walks in his final two games. “Like coach (Jeff) Rowland said, we’ve been resilient all year. We just tear through people, and it all came together at the right time.
“I love this team. We were shaky at first in the beginning of both games, but I knew we could get going in the end. Winning this state championship feels really good.”
Greenbrier (24-9) suffered its second straight state finals setback after losing to Loganville a year ago, but it wasn’t as if the Wolf Pack didn’t have their chances.
Greenbrier scored four runs in the fifth inning of Game 1 to take a 5-2 advantage. But after Wes Smith led off Pope’s seventh with a single, Brett Lyle reached on an error when the Wolf Pack’s shortstop mishandled a ball that could have been turned into a double play and extended the inning. Courtesy runner Harrison Siegal moved to third on the play, and Jacob Culbertson was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Greenbrier reliever Adam Grice was then ejected by the home-plate umpire when he walked off the mound towards the plate to presumably argue that Culbertson didn’t try to avoid the ball. Afterwards, Clint Hardy came in for Grice and induced a double play when Jared Parker flew out and Siegal was called out for tagging up too soon.
With two outs and the game on the line, that’s when Pope’s offense kicked in.
Mason Shiflett’s single plated Lyle, and Patrick Wiseman’s single scored Culbertson from second. Chris Michaels mishandled Wiseman’s hit in center field, allowing Shiflett to score the tying run and force extra innings.
Greenbrier responded by scoring twice in the eighth, before the inning ended with Pope left fielder Stephen Skruck throwing Steven Maier out at home to limit the Wolf Pack’s damage.
In the bottom half, Wes Smith’s one-out single got the Greyhounds going again. Then, after a groundout, Culbertson laced a two-out, two-strike pitch to right-center to score Siegal, in to run for Smith. Parker’s single put runners on the corners, and Shiflett’s double plated Culbertson to knot the game at 7-all.
After Greenbrier intentionally walked Wiseman, Lowe blasted a pitch over the wall in right-center field to end the game with his grand slam.
“I knew (intentionally walking Wiseman) was
the right play to make, to force the out at all of the bases, but it was the
wrong play at that time,” Lowe said. “I got in on that ball really well and just hit it out.”
Sophomore Braden Zarbnisky started Game 1 for Pope, allowing five runs — two earned — on six hits in five innings. Freshmen Josh Lowe and Cameron Allison came on in relief.
“We knew they were capable of playing well for us,” said Rowland, who went with his young pitchers for the first game instead of his seasoned veterans. “They pitched well for us on JV and had pitched for us in some big games this year. I felt like they could do it. They’ve been out there before and they’ve been successful before.”
The second game just got out of hand.
After Taylor Glover’s first-inning home run put Greenbrier in front 2-0, Culbertson’s RBI groundout scored Johnny Flading and Logan Taylor scored on a two-out error to knot the contest at 2-all in the second.
Michaels’ RBI single in the third gave Greenbrier its final lead at 3-2.
Flading started off the game-changing fourth inning with a single, and Skruck ended it with a fly out to center. In all, 18 batters came to the plate, and Pope scored 13 runs off 11 hits, including four doubles, one error, four walks and a wild pitch.
Everyone scored at least once for Pope in Game 2.
Wiseman allowed five earned runs off six hits in four innings of work. Jacob Ramos came on in relief to get the final three outs after Greenbrier scored twice in the fifth.
“Offense is what got us here,” Rowland said. “We’ve been doing this all year. They love to hit, and I love to watch these guys hit.
“These games were unbelievable. These playoffs were unbelievable. They played like a team of destiny.”