By Stan Awtrey
For the AJC
Under normal circumstances Brookwood pitcher Ryan Woodard would not have been allowed to pitch the last inning. He had thrown more than 100 pitches and coach Rick Howard is inclined to protect his young arms.
But these weren’t normal circumstances and Howard decided to go with his gut. Woodard rewarded his coach’s decision. The senior right-hander pitched through the heart of the Grayson batting order with two runners on base in the last inning to secure Brookwood’s 7-4 victory in the deciding game of the best-of-three Class AAAAA semifinal baseball series.
“His pitch count was higher than I like it to be,” Howard said. “But I felt it was his game. He’d earned it. He’d thrown his tail off.”
Woodard was the star on Tuesday. He allowed eight hits, four runs, four walks and struck out five. He also had a two-run double in the first inning that highlighted Brookwood’s five-run rally to open the game.
“That helped me relax,” Woodard said.
Brookwood sent 11 men to the plate in the first inning, chasing Grayson starter Griffen Ebel after one-third of an inning. The Broncos had nine hits in the inning, none of them cheapies.
“That was a good ice-breaker,” Howard said. “That’s the way we’ve played since mid-April. I give our kids all the credit in the world. They’ve taken their opportunities and made the most of them.”
Two months ago the Broncos hardly resembled a championship team. They were 9-7 and going nowhere. Now they’re 25-10 and preparing to play nemesis Parkview for the state championship.
“We hade to find ourselves,” Howard said. “And when we did, we’ve taken off.”
Brookwood won the first 10-0 in five innings on Monday, but Grayson came back to win the second game 3-1. The Rams (27-9) kept things close on Tuesday thanks to five strong innings of relief from Korey Anderson, who allowed only one run. But the Rams couldn’t break through against Woodard or the Broncos strong defense.
“I didn’t have my best stuff, so I had to rely on my defense,” Woodard said.
They didn’t fail him. Center fielder Cedric Mullins cut off a would-be double and threw out a runner a third base. Shortstop Lucas Sims speared a line drive and doubled-up the runner at second. Third baseman Michael Gouge made a nice over-the-shoulder catch in foul territory in the seventh inning to help prevent a big rally.
The best-of-three championship series will start with a double-header at Parkview on Saturday. The finale, if necessary, would be played on Monday. Parkview, the defending state champion, has won three state championships. Brookwood has won two state titles, most recently in 2008. The two rivals have never met for a state baseball championship.