FOLKSTON, Ga. — As "We Are the Champions" blared from the sound system at the Charlton County High School baseball field and the home team was being mobbed on the pitcher's mound, the Gordon Lee Trojans huddled in near disbelief in right field.
As if reliving a nightmare, the Trojans walked off the Indians' field as state runners-up after losing 2-1 in a tense GHSA Class A public school championship series finale Monday. After routing Charlton 13-7 in game one Saturday, the Gordon Lee bats fell silent in crucial situations. After leaving 10 runners on base in a 7-3 game two loss, the Trojans left eight on base Monday.
Making the runner-up trophy harder to hold was the fact that Charlton won its two games with a combined six hits. Gordon Lee freshman left-hander Chaney Rogers gave up two hits and struck out nine batters in five innings, the only damage done on Scott Birchall's two-run fifth-inning double that ticked off the glove of left fielder Will Goodman.
"We just didn't swing it enough -- that's the bottom line," Gordon Lee coach Mike Dunfee said. "I thought Chaney came in and threw a heck of a game. It's tough to take this in and look those kids in the eyes. I felt these kids deserved to win this championship, and that's not taking anything away from Charlton. This is a fantastic atmosphere and they're a great team, but we felt like this was ours to win."
Gordon Lee (26-8) jumped on top in the fourth inning when, after an error, a Sean Coakley single and a two-out walk, the team's only senior, Zach Cobb, beat out an infield single for a 1-0 lead. That's all the damage the Trojans managed against rejuvenated senior right-hander Richard Dasher, who bounced back from a rough outing in the semifinal round with a combination of low fastballs and breaking pitches to keep the Trojans off balance.
"His last outing against ECI did not go well, and he didn't last past the second inning," Charlton coach Thad Marchman said of Dasher. "He had a hard time throwing his breaking pitch and was leaving his fastball up a lot. Today we made sure he worked down in the strike zone and got his breaking pitch over for strikes."
Dasher's good work paid off in the fifth when Derek King worked a one-out walk against Rogers and Dunfee elected for the second time in the game -- and fifth time in the series -- to intentionally walk dangerous L.J. Talley. Birchall followed with his big two-run hit to left field that Goodman nearly hauled in.
"The ball must have fell just inches from his glove, but that's baseball," Dunfee said. "Our thing was we weren't going to let [Talley] beat us. That kid can hit. We pitched to him in the first inning and we struck him out, but with guys on base we weren't going to take that chance. It just didn't work out for us in that inning."
Gordon Lee had one more scoring chance when Conard Broom led off the sixth by reaching on an error. After a pop-up for out one, Braxton Salmon sent a Dasher pitch deep to center field, where a retreating Birchall caught the ball falling down. Goodman followed with a single, but Dasher got Cobb to strike out on a 3-2 fastball.
The Trojans went down 1-2-3 in the seventh, an afternoon shower adding injury to insult by pelting the team with heavy drops of rain as its championship hopes ended.
"Their kid pitched a great game, but I think our emotions got the best of us," Dunfee said. "The atmosphere took control of their emotions, and I've got to find a way to take that out of the game. If there's one positive to take out of this it's that this has got to make you hungry and keep you driven. Our goal is still there, and we have that to reach on a team that has a lot of guys coming back."
Contact Lindsey Young at email@example.com or at 423-757-6296.
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...