With the bases loaded and nobody out in the top of the seventh inning in Friday’s Game 2 of the Class A Private state championship series, Wesleyan was poised to get right back on track.
Mount Paran Christian had won Game 1 4-0 and was three outs away from winning a state title, but Game 2 starter Cam Collier — who had cruised through the first six innings — was facing Druw Jones, the son of former Atlanta Braves star Andruw Jones, in the Wolves’ best scoring situation of the night.
“He had gotten me earlier in the game,” Collier said, “so I wanted to attack him with the curveball. I knew, if I could get him to swing, he’d hit a ground ball.”
Collier was right. Jones turned on the pitch and hit a high chopper to third baseman Tate McKee, who stepped on the base and threw home. Tyler Minnick applied the tag to Carson Ballard, and just like that, the threat was gone.
Collier struck out Jalen Fulwood for the final out of the night, then jumped into Minnick’s arms as the Eagles celebrated a 3-0 victory, a series sweep and the first state championship in program history.
“This one’s for Harvey,” Mount Paran coach Kyle Reese said after getting the ceremonial ice bath from his players.
Harvey Cochran, who coached Reese as part of legendary career at North Cobb and later preceded Reese as the coach at Mount Paran (29-4), died last August at 73. Cochran helped get the Eagles’ program heading in the right direction, and Reese fulfilled the vision that he and Cochran had for the program Friday night at Coolray Field.
“I have no idea (what just happened),” Reese said. “Our guys did an incredible job with keeping them off-balance. (Wesleyan) had a great approach at the plate. You’re just sitting over here holding your breath for two ballgames.”
Wesleyan (32-6) entered the championship series on a 25-game winning streak and was averaging nearly nine runs a game in the playoffs. Collier and Game 1 starter Luke Dotson combined to hold the Wolves to six hits over the two games and posted the Eagles’ 12th and 13th shutouts of the season.
It was the only two games of the season Wesleyan was held scoreless.
“We did the same thing we’ve done all year,” Reese said. “Our pitchers and our catchers have called every pitch. We don’t call pitches from the dugout. For Tyler Minnick, a sophomore catcher, to catch three sophomore pitchers and call every pitch tonight, that’s pretty unheard of anymore in high school baseball.”
For both Dotson and Collier, it took a little time for them to settle in.
In Game 1, Dotson loaded the bases in the first inning on two walks and a hit batter. However, with one out, he got Wesleyan catcher Bryce Hubbard to ground into a 4-6-3 double play to get out of the inning.
“They had the momentum,” said the left-handed Dotson, a Florida State commit who went 5-0 in the playoffs, winning all five Game 1s. “Then, we took it.”
Dotson faced only two batters over the minimum over the next 4 1/3 innings. He finished pitching 5 1/3 innings, working around five walks, striking out five and allowing only two hits. After keeping the Wolves’ batters off-balance, he waited for the Mount Paran offense to get him some run support.
“That’s the best I’ve felt in a while,” said Dotson, who moved in from Lake City, Florida, before the season. “It’s only been 130-something days since I’ve been here. Couldn’t imagine anything better. … I’m thankful for my whole team, the coaches and the Mount Paran community.”
With one out in the top of the fifth, Mount Paran finally broke through. Alex Adams and Collier both singled, which brought up Jake Tucker, who came through with an RBI single to center for the game’s first run. Minnick was hit by a pitch to load the bases and then Josh Fitzpatrick’s sacrifice fly gave tge Eagles a 2-0 lead.
That was enough to chase Wesleyan starting pitcher James McCoy. The Kentucky commit allowed only two runs on eight hits in five innings while striking out five, but the Wolves brought in Nate Kerpics to start the sixth.
McKee welcomed him into the game with a single and then stole second. With two outs, Adams walked, which brought up Collier, who was looking to bring in some much needed insurance runs.
“I had been kind of late on a few pitches and I knew he was trying to get me with a curveball,” said Collier, a Louisville commit. “I sat on it and got it.”
Collier’s line drive split the defenders and went all the way to the wall in the 375-foot power alley. McKee and Adams came around to score, Collier dove head-first into third base with a two-run triple and the Eagles had a 4-0 lead.
Dotson came out to start the sixth, and after retiring Jones on a grounder to third, he walked Fulwood. Reese made a pitching change to bring in right-hander Paul Farley to face McCoy.
Batting lefty, McCoy turned on a pitch and the sound the bat made as the ball left signaled it was gone. McCoy thought it was gone and started into a home run trot, while Fulwood rounded second and was headed to third.
However, the ball did not make it to the fence. Center fielder Nick Germain tracked the ball down on the warning track and threw to Fitzpatrick, who then had plenty of time to get the ball to Tucker at first to complete the double play.
A home run would have cut the lead in half. Instead, Mount Paran was three outs away from a win.
Reese said it was a key moment in the game, and really deflating to Wesleyan.
“You feel it tingling, and you hear them going nuts,” he said. “And then, instead, it’s a double play and the momentum almost knocks the back wall of our dugout out. The momentum is right back with us.”
Farley shut things down in the seventh to earn the save and set things up for Collier in Game 2.
Like Dotson in Game 1, Collier had issues finding the strike zone in the first inning. After striking out Jones, he walked Fulwood and Taylor. He came back to strike out Cooper Blauser — the son of former Braves shortstop Jeff Blauser — and then walked Hubbard to load the bases.
With a 2-2 count, Collier struck out Luke Carroll to end the inning, and he pumped his fist as he ran to the dugout.
“That was huge,” Reese said, “because, if you don’t do that, now the momentum swings to them and maybe we split. Instead, it says we still have something for them and they think, ‘Wow, Dotson just dealt and he just got out of it with the bases juiced.’”
Mount Paran turned around and put up two runs in the bottom half of the first. Collier singled and went to third on a double by Minnick, Fitzpatrick hit an infield single to second to score Collier and Minnick came around to score when Blauser’s throw was wide of first base.
In the second, McKee walked and moved to second on a fielder’s choice. After a flyout to left by Germain moved McKee to third, he scored on a sacrifice fly by Adams to make it 3-0.
That put the game in Collier’s hands, who did not give up a hit until the fourth. He finished going all seven innings, allowing four hits, walking four and striking out nine.