FPD couldn’t have written a better exit.
The Vikings said farewell to the GISA on Saturday, and they did so in grand style.
FPD beat Tattnall Square, 5-4, to sweep the GISA Class AAA state championship series and win its first state baseball championship in 18 years. It will also be the last, with the Vikings heading to the GHSA.
“I think it matters that (we leave on top),” FPD head coach Jim Turner said. “We wanted to win so we could be state champions. We accomplished that goal. The GHSA has 95 Class A schools, so it’s going to be difficult, but we are looking forward to the challenge.”
FPD handled a different challenge Saturday by knocking off the two-time defending state champions.
The Vikings did so by making clutch plays at the right times for the second consecutive day. No play or moment from the series will loom as large as one that came in the bottom of the sixth inning.
After getting 5-1/3 strong innings from starter Nick Mullis, Turner went to the bullpen to bring in Game 1 starter Jordan Corbitt with the bases loaded and one out and FPD clinging to a 5-3 lead. Corbitt was exhausted on Friday night after his complete game victory, but he told Turner that he could pitch if necessary. The FPD coach brought Corbitt in just after a single by Grant Nicholson cut the Vikings’ lead to two runs. Coming to the plate was Ryan Bartholomew, who hit a double in the fifth inning, and on deck was Tattnall star DeAndre Smelter, who went 4-for-6 with a home run and a double in the series.
“There was no tomorrow,” Turner said. “We needed to win the game. It was now or never.”
Corbitt induced a ground ball on Bartholomew, and shortstop Sam Joyce turned the 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.
“Ryan Bartholomew can’t hit the ball any harder,” Tattnall head coach Joey Hiller said. “He hits that ball on a line, we’re going to win it. Those little intricacies can be the difference in the game with two evenly matched teams.”
Corbitt would get the Vikings out of another jam in the seventh inning following a leadoff double by Smelter. Smelter scored on a single by Jackson Morgan to cut the lead to 5-4, but Corbitt recovered to strike out Ryan Mosley and Conner Alford to end the game.
“DeAndre is a great player, and he’s going to get the best of you sometimes,” Mullis said. “But Jordan brushed it off and stayed calm and finished it off. (Corbitt) is an amazing athlete, and he put us on his back.”
After Tattnall got on the scoreboard first following a trio of first inning errors by the Vikings, FPD struck back in the second inning on a RBI single by Game 1 hero Ben DuBose, who finished the series 4-for-6 with four RBI.
The Vikings took a 3-1 lead on a two-run single by Mullis in the third inning. They countered Smelter’s third inning home run with a solo shot by Corbitt in the fifth to maintain a two-run lead.
FPD stretched the lead to 5-2 on a RBI single by Robert Thompson with the bases loaded and no outs in the sixth inning. But Tattnall starter Grant Nicholson minimized the damage by getting out of the inning with no further damage. Smelter ensured that by tracking down a fly ball in shallow left field that saved a run. The shortstop, who was playing in close to get a potential force play at home, sprinted into left field and dived with his back to home plate to make an over-the-shoulder blind catch for the second out. Nicholson got Taylor Jones to hit into a force play to end the inning.
The Trojans went on to have their own struggles with the bases loaded in the next inning. They stranded eight runners in the game, with six stuck in scoring position.
It looked like the Trojans would take a commanding early lead when Mosley hit a shot with two runners on in the first inning. But Trey Dozier caught the ball against the fence to end the inning and keep the deficit to 1-0.
“It’s frustrating to know that we were a swing away from being up (4-0),” Smelter said. “That’s just how baseball is, sometimes you get the breaks and sometimes you don’t. That’s what makes it a great game.”
FPD’s state championship was the second in school history. Turner led the Vikings to their only other state title in 1992.