By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy waited seven years to celebrate another baseball championship. Saturday evening, they had to wait about a little longer than anticipated.
Leading Mt. Paran Christian 4-1 in the bottom of the seventh of Game 2 with the bases empty and two outs, after already defeating the Eagles in Game 1 (5-1), the Chargers thought they had recorded the final out of the series when freshman Cole Ganopulos got fellow ninth grader Taylor Trammell to ground out to first on a full count. ELCA players charged the field and dog piled on top of Ganopulos, as did several enthusiastic students from the bleachers. But the ball had hit Trammell’s foot and was ruled a foul ball by the home plate umpire.
Not to worry. After the fans went back to the stands and all the players collected their gloves and hats, Ganopulos zipped a fastball on the outer edge of the plate for a called strike three and a Class A Private School state title for ELCA. It was the second championship for ELCA this school year, as the Chargers won the football championship last December.
ELCA entered the playoffs as the top seeded team in the 16-team tournament. But they had entered the 2007 playoffs ranked No. 1 as well, after winning the championship in 2006. They were swept by Calvary Day of Savannah, the team they had defeated in the title series the year before.
“That team had a bad day, that’s all,” said ELCA head coach Doug Campbell, who was in his second year as head coach in 2007. “This team didn’t have any bad days. They’ve been extremely confident all year in their ability to hit the baseball and not feel that any pitcher could shut them down.”
Indeed, the Chargers showed their offensive prowess and resiliency in both games, as they scored seven of their nine runs with two outs. ELCA got two-out hits and RBI’s from seniors DJ Curl and Jacob Hayward, as well as junior Andrew Gomez.
“We’ve done that all year,” Campbell said. “Gomez has been a machine, and Curl has done it all throughout the playoffs, not only with two outs but with two strikes.”
In Game 1, in the bottom of the second, Gomez led off with a double to left center. Mt. Paran pitcher Robert Wilson induced a ground out and a foul pop out on the next two ELCA batters. But junior first baseman Matthew Hammers hit a bloop double to center, scoring Gomez to put ELCA ahead 1-0.
In the bottom of the third, ELCA scored two more runs with two out. Sophomore Dazmon Cameron (son of former major league outfielder Mike Cameron) singled after third baseman Patrick Busscher flied out to start the inning. After senior DJ Curl (a safety on the football team, headed to Charleston Southern to play football and baseball) flied out to right, Cameron stole second with Jacob Heyward (brother of Braves outfielder Jason Heyward) at the plate. Heyward then hammered a 2-2 pitch to right to score Cameron. Heyward took second base on the throw, and came in to score one batter later as Gomez singled to center to give the Chargers a 3-0 lead.
Cameron provided a little insurance in the bottom of the fifth, when he blistered a rocket over the left field wall with one out to make the score 4-0. ELCA added a run in the bottom of the sixth on single, a walk and a wild pitch to make it 5-0.
Mt. Paran brought the tying run to the plate in the top of the seventh. The Eagles scored their first run of the game when senior Will Schnure singled to left with the bases loaded and two out. But junior Dalton Etheridge (quarterback of the football team) fanned senior Kyle Trammel for his tenth strikeout of the game to end the contest and put ELCA up 1-0 in the best-of-three series.
In Game 2, Ganopolus matched Etheridge’s effort, scattering just five hits by the Eagles.
“We didn’t have a definitive No. 2 [pitcher], and Cole was on the JV all year,” Campbell said. “But he’s pitched well and we thought we could bring him in to pitch Game 2 of a series if we had already won Game 1. Just a great job by him.”