MCDONOUGH — Four years ago, a group of young baseball players competed in their first season at Locust Grove High School.
Fast-forward to 2017, and that same group has accomplished plenty in that four-year span. The Wildcats clinched their fourth straight region championship Tuesday with a 7-2 victory over Ola. Over the last four seasons, Locust Grove has won four region titles, a state championship and boasts a 103-22 record.
“This group of kids is just really tight-knit. They all love each other, the coaches and the camaraderie between the coaches is pretty good too,” Locust Grove head coach Stephen Phillips said. “They come out every day and they work hard. I think now they’re 103-22 over four years. They come out, they work hard, they play hard and that’s all I can ask for.”
In Monday’s victory, Locust Grove scored seven runs in the first three innings off of Ola starter Coston Anderson. That offensive outburst was plenty for starting pitcher Nolan Crisp, who struck out 10 while allowing two hits in the complete game victory.
The Wildcats put up three runs in the top of the first inning to take a commanding lead. Colton Bailey got the party started with a one-out double and scored on Clay Shearouse’s RBI single. Shearouse advanced to second on a wild pitch and moved to third on Gavin Lee’s single. One batter later, Austin Moody drove in both runners with a single.
Staked to an early lead, Crisp made short work of Ola in the bottom of the inning. He allowed no baserunners and struck out two to get his offense back to the plate.
“Any time Nolan toes the rubber, he’s a hard-nosed kid who’s going to fight through adversity,” Phillips said. “He’s never going to pack it in or want off the mound. He wants the ball to the very last pitch and that’s all you can ask for from a kid who’s a sophomore.”
Locust Grove scored twice more in the bottom of the second without recording a hit. Anderson struggled with his command in the frame, hitting Luke Mays and walking Joah Curry. A wild pitch moved both runners into scoring position before another wild pitch allowed Mays to score. Shearouse drove in his second run of the game when he pushed Curry across via squeeze bunt.
The Wildcats added their final runs of the game in the third inning. Crisp and Cole Powell singled with one out. Pinch runner Cole Mallett scored on Trevor Sellers’ infield single and Powell crossed the plate on a RBI walk by Curry later in the inning. Locust Grove did leave the bases loaded though, as Anderson got Bailey to ground into a 1-2-3 double play to end the frame.
Still, the damage had been done, and Ola was forced to play catch-up from the get-go.
“It was huge because Ola is a good team,” Phillips said regarding his team’s early offense. “They’re young but they’re very talented. Coach Edwards does a great job coaching them, I have a ton of respect for him and his program. Of course there is a little bit of a rivalry between the two schools, so for our guys to lock in and know what was on the line and put some runs up early was big.”
The Mustangs pushed their first run across in the bottom of the third. Chaz Salter reached on an error and advanced to third on consecutive balks by Crisp. Cason Barnett drove in Salter with a single, but Crisp escaped the inning with no further damage to keep his team in front by a score of 7-1.
Ola freshman Micheal Thomason relieved Anderson in the top of the fourth inning and closed the game out with four scoreless innings of work. He allowed just one hit and walked two to keep the Mustangs within striking distance.
Ola’s final opportunity came in the bottom of the sixth. Dalton Thomas and Matthew Mamatas led off the inning with a walk and single, respectively. Thomas scored when Bailey made a throwing error as he tried to turn a double play off the bat of Anderson. However, Crisp buckled down and retired Brandon Ford and Patrick Holloman to silence the threat.
Crisp finished the game off in the seventh with two straight strikeouts to clinch the region title. He also went 2-for-4 at the plate. Shearouse finished the night 1-for-1 with a walk, a hit-by-pitch and 2 RBIs. Moody went 1-for-4 with 2 RBIs.
Mamatas and Barnett picked up the only two hits of the game for Ola. The Mustangs fell to 17-10 overall and 11-4 in region play with the loss.
Locust Grove improved to 21-4 overall and 14-1 in region play with the win. The Wildcats will be a No. 1 seed in the Class AAAAA state tournament, where they will try to repeat as state champions.
“You feel the pressure. You can’t really go anywhere without somebody bringing up winning it again,” Phillips said. “The thing that people have to understand is to win one time is a great accomplishment. We’re going to bow our necks; we’re going to go after it, but there are no guarantees. All we can do is worry about ourselves, take each game one at a time and see what happens.
“If God blesses us to win another one then we’ll be grateful,” he continued. “If he doesn’t think it’s the right time then we’re OK with that. We know we’ve done well and we’ve played hard the entire time we’ve had this opportunity.”