DeAndre Smelter exhaled deeply and took the blame.
The Tattnall Square senior said he let his team down by not winning the first game of the GISA Class AAA championship series against FPD. The Vikings took the opener, and then they won the second game for a series sweep.
“It was very disappointing,” Smelter said.
But anyone watching the series, and Tattnall during the past four years for that matter, knew that the Trojans wouldn’t have been in that position without Smelter. Nor would they have been in either of the two games of the championship series without his competitiveness on the mound or his prowess with the bat.
“He’s an unbelievable player that can take over any game,” FPD sophomore Ben DuBose said.
In a year in which multiple GISA players had historical seasons — FPD’s Jordan Corbitt and Taylor Jones and Stratford’s Tyler Gibson all excelled — Smelter stood alone in terms of his on-field production and what his play meant to his team’s success.
Smelter, The Telegraph’s All-Middle Georgia GISA Baseball Player of the Year, led an inexperienced team to a third consecutive state championship appearance. The Trojans won the championship in 2008 and 2009 but returned only three players with more than 50 plate appearances and only one pitcher with more than 26 innings pitched.
Smelter took control of the team’s direction after an average start to the season and elevated his team’s play to help lead them to a level where they could contend for a third straight state championship.
“There’s no doubt that (Smelter) can put us on his back,” Tattnall head coach Joey Hiller said. “He has the ability to lead by example. When he plays well, everybody else follows.”
That was evident early in the playoffs when Smelter took over the first-round series against Trinity Christian.
Smelter pitched a complete game shutout and hit a home run in the first game. In the second game, Smelter started scoring rallies in three innings and made a diving catch to win the game and earn the series sweep.
Smelter finished the season 9-2 on the mound with a 1.00 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 69-2/3 innings pitched.
But the senior’s greatest value down the stretch came with the bat. His emergence at the plate helped electrify an offense that had been stagnant at times, particularly when the big hit was needed.
Smelter hit nearly .650 during the final 15 games of the season. The stretch included a 4-for-6 showing with a home run in the state championship series.
He finished the season hitting .521 with 10 doubles, 10 home runs, 30 RBI and 24 stolen bases. Smelter is getting an extended chance to show off his batting ability this summer as a center fielder with a travel ball team in the prestigious East Cobb league.
Smelter will decide in August whether to sign a contract with the Minnesota Twins, who drafted him in the 14th round of the Major League Baseball draft in June or head to college at Georgia Tech.
“I have two really good options,” Smelter said in June.