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Worth the effort
Brookwood battles to sweep of Walton, state baseball crown

SNELLVILLE - Walton's players showed they were worthy defenders of last year's Class AAAAA state baseball championship in this year's finals against Brookwood.

But the top-ranked Broncos demonstrated they were worthy successors.

Ross Heffley's walk-off solo homer helped Chase Hawkins outduel Mark Pope for a 3-2 Brookwood win in Game 1. Then, a six-run outburst in the second inning paved the way for a 6-3 victory in the nightcap, helping the Broncos sweep the doubleheader and claim the title Friday at the Dave Hunter Complex.

It was the first state championship for Brookwood (34-3) since 1986, but one the Broncos had to earn.

"That's what makes it so special," Brookwood coach Rick Howard said. "It was so hard-fought."

The big-time pitching matchup between Brookwood's Hawkins (14-1) and Walton's Pope (9-2) in the opener lived up to its billing, with both hurlers going the distance. Hawkins scattered seven hits and two earned runs with six strikeouts, while Pope gave up eight hits and three earned runs with four strikeouts.

Both also had to pitch out of trouble throughout the game, with each only retiring the opposition in order once.

Brookwood had two prime chances to score, though Pope (9-2) got help from Raiders leftfielder Cory Reed to keep the game tied.

First the 5-foot-8, 160-pound senior gunned down Jon Robinson trying to score from second on Heffley's single to left in the bottom of the third.

Two innings later, the Broncos had another scoring opportunity after Grayson Flack was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning and Robinson followed with a bunt single.

After a sacrifice bunt by Jordan Erisman and an intentional walk to Heffley loaded the bases, Ryan Lewis lined a shot towards left.

Reed sprinted in to make the catch and fired home quickly enough to force Flack to hold after coming halfway down the line.

Pope then got out of the inning by getting Seth Adkins to bounce back to the mound.

In all, the Walton right-hander stranded seven Brookwood runners, while Hawkins did his own Houdini act on the mound by stranding eight Walton runners, including five in scoring position.

"Mark did a great job," Walton coach Shane Amos said. "He just kept giving us a chance."

Brookwood finally broke through on Pope in the bottom of the sixth, when Hawkins sent a 1-2 pitch to right for a one-out single, which brought Buddy Jones, who came into the game hitting just .242, to the plate.

But the senior rightfielder got hold of one of the few Pope curveballs he hung and deposited it over the wall for his second homer of the season, giving the Broncos a 2-0 lead.

"He just hung one," Jones said of the Georgia Tech signee. "I've never hit a ball like that in my life."

It took Walton less than 10 pitches from Hawkins to get those runs back, however, in the top of the seventh.

Cory Reed and Billy Burns each struck for first-pitch singles, and Alex Sherrod sacrificed them up a base with a bunt to bring up Spencer Kieboom.

The Raiders' catcher delivered a single in the hole between short and third to drive in both runners, giving him Walton's school single-season record for RBIs with 52, and tying the game 2-2.

"That's why baseball kills you sometimes," the Georgia-bound left-hander said. "As soon as you think, "We've got it,' it comes up and bites you in the butt.

"We knew coming in it was going to be a battle, but we didn't come this far for someone to just give it to us."

So, the Broncos took it right back as Heffley ended things quickly with one out in the bottom of the seventh, rocketing a first-pitch fastball from Pope over the wall in right-center for the walk-off bomb that gave the Broncos the victory.

"I just went up there looking for something to drive," said Heffley, whose homer was his ninth of the year and fifth of the postseason. "I wasn't thinking too much. I just happened to get the barrel of the bat on it."

While it took a while for Brookwood to string together hits in Game 1, the Broncos got their bats warmed up early in the nightcap, striking for six hits in the top of the second.

Erisman and Lewis each took advantage of a shallow defensive alignment in right field for triples - the former clearing the bases for three RBIs and the latter driving in another run.

Heffley and Jones also added an RBI each in the inning, and when the dust settled Brookwood had a 6-0 lead.

But Walton starter T.J. Kerins (5-2) settled down from there, allowing just two hits and no runs over the next 32â "3 innings before giving way to Chris Knauff, who threw 11â "3 scoreless innings.

And the Raiders tried to get back into the game in the bottom of the third, taking advantage of a two-out error and Alex Sherrod's RBI single to pull to within 6-2.

Another run off a double-play grounder in the sixth cut Brookwood's lead to 6-3.

"I told our kids not to relax," Howard said.

"But give credit to (Walton). They bounced back."

But so did Alex Beebe (10-1), who avoided further trouble after hitting pinch-hitter Cory Leff when Hawkins made a diving stop on Reed's sharp grounder to end the inning.

Michael Brown then pitched around Sherrod's one-out walk and Kieboom's infield single to get the final two outs and secure his 10th save of the season and the title for Brookwood.