By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
Propelled by two huge innings, Pope swept the Class AAAAA Finals from Greenbrier, winning Game 1, 11-7 in eight innings, and Game 2, 15-5 in five innings. It gave the Greyhounds their second state title in four years (2009).
Game 1 had one of the most bizarre finishes imaginable for any ball game, let alone a state final.
Trailing 5-2 heading into the bottom of the seventh, Pope scored three runs to tie the game. The final two runs were plated on a two-out single to center by junior Patrick Wiseman that was misplayed into a double by the Greenbrier centerfielder.
But the Wolfpack retook the lead in the top of the eighth. Two walks and a single by senior Steven Maier loaded the bases, and after freshman Ty Snipes was fanned by Pope freshman hurler Cameron Allison, senior Clint Hardy’s sharp grounder ate up Greyhound shortstop Johnny Flading, which allowed Chris Michaels to score.
Greenbrier added what seemed like a key insurance run one batter later when junior Conner Hoover singled off the lip of the infield to score Travis Martinez, who had walked. Maier was thrown out attempting to score to end the inning, but the Wolfpack led 7-5.
Then in the home half of the eighth, Wesley J. Smith singled with one out and went to second on a groundout. Jacob Culberson kept the inning alive when he singled to centerfield on an 0-2 count, to narrow the gap to 7-6. Senior Jared Parker followed with a high chopper that was lost in the sun by the Greenbriar third baseman. Mason Shiflett then doubled home Culberson to tie the game at 7-7.
Greenbrier head coach Chris Wilkins decided to gamble by walking Wiseman to load the bases for Nathaniel Lowe – arguably the Greyhounds’ best hitter, batting over .400 this season – with the hope of enticing the senior to hit a ground ball to end the inning with a force out at any base.
Lowe didn’t oblige. Instead he hammered a 2-0 pitch high over the wall in right center field for a walk-off grand slam and an 11-7 win to set the stage for the sweep.
In Game 2, trailing 3-2 heading into the fourth inning, Pope blitzed the Wolfpack, scoring 13 runs on 11 hits, including four doubles. The Greyhounds were aided by an error and four walks, and took a commanding 15-3 lead, and went on to win 15-5 in five innings.
In that decisive fourth inning, Wiseman had two doubles and drove in three runs, while Shiflett and junior Brett Lyle both had two singles and drove in two.