Schley Wildcats sweep Gordon Lee in state finals, earn Class A crown
Published 12:35 pm Saturday, May 27, 2017
By MICHAEL MURRAY
ROME – The Schley County Wildcats have done it again, winning their second GHSA Class A state championship in three years after defeating the Gordon Lee Trojans in a May 25 doubleheader in Rome, Ga.
Following their sweep of the Trion Bulldogs and the Telfair County Trojans in rounds two and three of the state playoffs, respectively, the Wildcats earned the right to advance and face the Gordon Lee Trojans in the final round.
The ‘Cats opened the afternoon’s action with a 6-0 shutout of their opponents before claiming the state crown in game two with a 12-3 win over the Trojans.
There seemed to be little doubt in any of the hundreds of Schley fans’ minds that their home team would be able to pull off the win as they converged on State Mutual Stadium, home of the Rome Braves, to cheer the Wildcats to victory.
Alongside the state title, the Wildcats claimed a 34-2 overall record on the 2017 season after remaining undefeated in Georgia High School Association (GHSA) Region 4-A competition following 16 regular-season contests.
This season has certainly been a productive one for the Wildcats’ team, which saw four players, Chase Patrick, Clint Sellars, Will Barry, and Reid Ragsdale sign scholarship agreements with schools all over the state of Georgia. In addition, nearly every member of the Wildcats’ starting lineup was recognized with positions on the All-Area teams for their performances on the diamond this year.
As the icing on the cake, Wildcat head coach, Chuck Cheek, was recently named Coach of the Year alongside Barry and Patrick, who were honored as Player of the Year and Pitcher of the Year, respectively.
The Wildcats got off to an uncharacteristically slow start in the May 25 opener, with the Trojans retiring the side in order in the first two innings while the ‘Cats gave up a pair of hits to the Chickamauga-based team.
The Schley Crew picked up the pace, however, in the top of the third frame when Chance Hollomon kicked off a rally with an opening single, the Wildcats’ first hit of the game.
Schley’s Jordan Hall followed with a base hit before Cameron Vanlerberghe laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance both runners to second and third bases.
Schley’s leadoff batter, Ragsdale, then managed to draw a walk, loading the bases and giving the Wildcats the chance to strike.
Patrick stepped up to the plate and sprung the trap, nailing a hard double into the outfield to complete Hollomon’s and Hall’s round trips and throw two marks on the board for the Schley crew. Clint Sellars then drew a walk of his own to keep the bases loaded and give the ‘Cats the chance to add to their lead, but they would not see the chance to push any more runs across until the top of the fifth.
The Trojans threatened in the bottom of the third frame with three consecutive base hits, but strong defensive plays from Ragsdale, Sellars, and Patrick kept the Gordon Lee team from making any more progress.
The top of the fourth saw the ‘Cats attempt to get another rally going, but a double play from the Trojans halted their efforts.
Schley responded with a 5-4-3 double play of their own in the bottom of the fourth, in which Sellars got the ball rolling with a toss to Vanlerberghe at second, who tagged the bag to retire a runner and fired the ball off to Wade Law, waiting at first base to dispatch another.
In the top of the fifth, Vanlerberghe opened with a base hit up the gut before Ragsdale exploited a Trojan error to push him to second.
With runners on first and second, Schley pitching ace, Will Barry, blasted a double deep into left field to add two more runs to the Wildcats’ tally. Sellars then added a double of his own, following a Gordon Lee error, which plated Trent Bivins, pinch-running for Barry. Law belted a double over the Trojan’s first baseman, allowing Sellars to come in and giving the Wildcats a 6-0 edge, which would soon prove to be enough to win the game.
It was three up, three down in the bottom of the fifth thanks, in part, to an expert pick-off throw by Barry from the mound to Vanlerberghe, who was guarding second base.
The Trojans responded in kind when the Wildcats returned to the dugout, forcing their second double play of the game. Hall, who had previously drawn a walk, was tagged out on his way to second base and Ragsdale just missed beating the throw at first.
The Trojans threatened one last time in the bottom of the sixth when Caleb Hopkins hit a double that fell just short of the right-field fence. Gordon Lee’s next batter was subsequently thrown out at first by Patrick before McCain Barbee was dispatched at the plate by an elevated fastball, launched from the hill by Barry.
With only three outs standing between them and the “W”, the Wildcats retired three batters in the bottom of the seventh when Drew McDaniel was thrown out at first by Hall, Sellars (now on the mound) struck out Justin Wooden, and Ragsdale made an exciting diving catch to send Trojan heavy-hitter, Mason Pettigrew, back to the bench as hundreds of die-hard Schley fans roared their approval.
Barry did six innings’ worth of work on the mound for the Wildcats in game one of the finals, striking out four batters and giving up six hits and no runs. Barry walked two Trojan batters.
Sellars came in to relieve Barry in the final frame, sending one batter back to the dugout.
Law, Barry, and Patrick each contributed doubles to the Wildcats’ victory, with Patrick and Barry bringing in two RBIs apiece. Law added one RBI to the Wildcats’ tally. Hollomon, Vanlerberghe, and Hall each connected on one single. Hollomon, Hall, Ragsdale, and Sellars each drew walks in the opening tilt.
Hollomon, Hall, Vanlerberghe, Ragsdale, Sellars, and Bivins each crossed the plate in the contest.
With only one game standing between them and the state crown, the Wildcats took a short break before returning to the field to attempt to put the series away.
Patrick opened the action on the mound for the Wildcats, immediately striking out Pettigrew to set the tone for the game. Gordon Lee’s Ethan Clark quickly reminded the Schley team that they would have to work for the final win, connecting on a base hit on his first at-bat.
The Wildcats promptly put the inning away before it could get out of hand, retiring Noah Peterson and Dylan Minghini in succession to take their turn at the plate.
This time around, the Schley crew wasted no time kicking off the scoring as Patrick put the gears in motion with a single up the middle. Barry then took one for the team when he was plunked by a wayward pitch and Sellars then drew a walk to load the bases.
Law then hoisted his bat to blast a two-RBI single down the third-base line, allowing Bivins (pinch-running for Patrick) and Barry to score.
The Wildcats took their two-run edge into the top of the second stanza and made short work of the Trojan’s prospective batters to return to the dugout.
Hall opened the bottom of the second frame with a walk, but was tagged out on a fielder’s choice off of Vanlerberghe’s bat. Patrick then reached on an error as Barry prepared to find the right-center gap for a double, giving himself and Vanlerberghe the chance to make their way home and widen the gap to 4-0.
Barry looked to continue the streak, taking off for third on a wild pitch moments before Sellars was hit in the knee by another errant toss. The Wildcats’ momentum was halted, however, when Law’s fly was pulled in by Gordon Lee’s shortstop.
In the top of the third, a running catch by Hollomon and a strikeout by Patrick were not enough to keep the Trojans off the board any longer, as Wooden, who had opened with a walk, was brought in off of a Peterson RBI double. Peterson then managed to find the chance to steal third base and make his own way home on a Minghini single, cutting the Wildcats’ lead in half.
The Trojans would not have the opportunity to celebrate for long, however, as Belcher, Hollomon, and Vanlerberghe would each take free bases in the bottom of the third, setting the stage for Ragsdale to add an RBI single to the Wildcats’ game stats. With the bases still loaded, Patrick immediately tacked on another single to bring in Hollomon and Vanlerberghe came in on a wild pitch with Barry at the plate, putting the Wildcats up 7-1.
The Wildcats were far from finished, though, as Gordon Lee hurler, Jake Wright took the mound to replace Clark, who had been handling pitching duties for the Trojans up to that point.
Sellars would soon draw a walk to load the bases once more before Law took a powerful swing at a fastball to blast a two-RBI single, plating Patrick and Bivins. Belcher followed with another base hit, bringing in Sellars, who narrowly beat the tag at home plate, giving the Schley crew an eight-point lead.
The Trojans attempted to get their comeback rally going in the top of the sixth after Thompson connected on a double. McDaniel followed suit, hitting a double of his own to bring in Peterson and add what would turn out to be Gordon Lee’s final run of the game.
With two outs on the board, Schley catcher, Jarrod Wall, managed to tag out Trojan pinch-hitter, Cole Tarvin after strike three fell to the dirt, ceasing the Gordon Lee team’s momentum.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Wildcats struck one final time, adding a pair of insurance runs to their total.
Hollomon led off with a single and was sacrificed to second by Hall.
Ragsdale then entered the batter’s box for what would turn out to be the senior’s final at-bat as a Wildcat. Ragsdale closed out his high school baseball career in style, blasting an RBI triple that allowed Hollomon to score. Patrick, another senior, followed with a shot that found the hole between third base and the Trojans’ shortstop, giving Ragsdale plenty of time to make his way home and ending his high school batting career on a high note.
The Wildcats promptly retired three batters in the top of the seventh frame to clinch the victory and take their spot at the top of the GHSA Class A pile as the visiting fans celebrated alongside the players and the Schley coaching staff.
Patrick went the distance for the Wildcats, working all seven innings on the mound while striking out nine batters. Patrick gave up only two walks and seven hits in the contest.
From the batter’s box, Patrick set the pace for the team as well, scattering four hits, bringing in one RBI, and crossing the plate twice. Ragsdale and Law both connected on two hits, with Law adding four RBIs along the way. Ragsdale hit the game’s only triple and brought in one runner.
Barry added a pair of RBIs on his sole connection of the game, a double. He crossed the plate once as he drew one walk and was hit by a pitch. Vanlerberghe, Belcher, and Hollomon, each added one hit to the win.
Bivins crossed the plate four times in the match.
11 of the Wildcats’ 12 runs were earned.
Following the victories, Coach Cheek, speaking to the media, stated, “The first [championship win in 2015] was our first one so it was special. This one kind of validates it… There’s a lot of people that have one. Not many people have two, so it makes it a little bit special.”
Wall, who performed a drastically understated role in the victory from behind home plate, told the media that the Wildcats have seen their share of doubters this season, due to the fact that the team lost three strong pitchers to graduation last year. “We were told at the beginning of the year that we weren’t gonna be in the competition for elite eight,” he told a reporter. “Everybody doubted us. But the performance we came and made in the final four and all throughout the playoffs just impressed everybody.”
The Wildcats will only be losing five players to graduation this year. With 14 team members likely returning to carry the torch next year, the future looks bright for next year’s squad.