MARIETTA — After all this — a 25-game regular season, a combined six seesaw playoff battles and numerous trips across all parts of Georgia — for two area teams, it all comes down to one final baseball-filled weekend.
Just one more best-of-three set and the winner of this year’s GISA AAA championship will be decided. And it will all happen in Macon’s own back yard. With an 8-1 road victory over Dominion Christian on Monday in the final game of its semifinal series, Tattnall Square set the stage for a crosstown championship showdown this weekend with FPD that will begin Friday at the Vikings’ Ben Harden Memorial Field. Last season, Tattnall beat Dominion Christian for the title.
For this most recent expedition, the Trojans traveled a whopping 214 miles to Dominion Christian and back. This weekend, their jaunt will take them the grand total of 3.7 miles, one way.
“It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be a great environment,” Tattnall head coach Joey Hiller said of the title series. “There will be a lot of people there.”
The Vikings beat the Trojans — winners of the last two AAA titles — twice during the regular season in the teams’ only meetings. This weekend’s likely will be their final one for some time, as FPD moves to the GHSA in all sports starting in the fall.
FPD head coach Jimmy Turner said Monday night the series would start at 7:30 p.m. Friday night. Game 2 will be played at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday with the third game, if necessary, to follow.
With respect to first pitches, Dominion Christian starter Michael Stukes barely got its first few across the plate before the Trojans began to stake their spot in the title series.
After Tattnall started the first inning by placing a runner on first base with one out, Trojans shortstop DeAndre Smelter stepped into the box. Getting ahead quickly in the count, he turned on a Stukes pitch that hung in the zone just long enough to get tagged eye-blinking fast over the left-field fence for a two-run home run.
The line drive was hit so hard that Smelter put his head down as soon as he dropped his bat and took two long, confident strides toward first base before beginning his easy, casual home run trot. In contrast, the left fielder took two innocent, spiritless steps toward the wall before stopping and letting the ball scream far over his head to spark the Trojans’ 2-0 first-inning lead.
“I don’t think it’s a big mystery that we follow him,” Hiller said of Smelter, Tattnall’s multi-position star who could sign with a big league club this summer.
Game 3 starter Grant Nicholson’s job was made easier by Smelter’s early fireworks display.
“It was really comfortable,” Nicholson said, grinning. “You go out there and have that, it takes off any pressure there is because you’ve got something to fall back on. And D’s a great player. He can just go out there and do it every day.”
In terms of pressure, for some third-day starters the stress of throwing in the meaningful, pivotal series clincher can be unbearable.
Nicholson doesn’t consider himself your average Game 3 hurler.
“Ever since I was little, the bigger the game, the better,” Nicholson said. “There’s nothing more fun. Everything’s on the line. One mistake can ruin the game. You’ve just got to play your best.”
He held the Knights to three hits and a run in the complete-game effort.
“He’s an outstanding pitcher,” Hiller said of Nicholson. “He did the same thing against Deerfield in the quarterfinals. It doesn’t surprise me at all.”
With extra rest following a four-day layoff due to Friday’s rain-induced Game 3 cancellation, the Trojans could have started Smelter, their ace. But Hiller was convinced that Nicholson could get the job done.
“Coach came to me before the game and he asked me how I was feeling and I told him I could go out there,” Smelter said. “(But) I was perfectly fine with his decision to start Grant because I know what Grant can do.”
Much like that pitching decision, Hiller seems to know exactly what his team can do. After leading Tattnall to three titles since 2005, he knows what a team is supposed to look like this time of year. So far, from this group, he likes what he sees.
“It takes team chemistry. It takes hard work; that’s what our guys are about,” Hiller said. “These guys, the vast, vast majority of them have come up through our program. They know our system. They know what we believe in, they know our faith.
“That’s the difference in winning Game 3 and losing Game 3.”
TATTNALL 8, DOMINION CHRISTIAN 1
Tattnall 200 112 2 8 9 0
Dominion Christian 000 010 0 1 3 4
WP: Grant Nicholson. LP: Michael Stukes.
2B: T — Tyler Thompson, Logan Easterwood.
HR:T — DeAndre Smelter.
Game notes: Smelter went 2-for-3 with a two-run home run. Tyler Thompson, Hunter Wilkinson, Ryan Bartholomew and Logan Easterwood also had RBIs.
Next: Tattnall at FPD, TBA, Friday.