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Heaner sparks Wolves

NORCROSS -- Kevin O'Leary has the Gwinnett County season home run record, but he doesn't bat cleanup for Wesleyan.

Gardner Heaner does and Landmark Christian found out why.

The junior third baseman capped a series to remember with a record-setting game Thursday as the defending Class A champion Wolves routed the No. 1-ranked War Eagles 19-4 in five innings to advance to the state quarterfinals.

"I don't really know where to start, I'm so excited," Heaner said. "It's hard to believe."

Heaner belted a two-run homer in the first inning and a grand slam in the second, starting a six-homer barrage by Wesleyan that was one short of the school record.

Daniel Cardwell, Alex Thykeson, Strother White and Adam Workman also smashed home runs as the Wolves pounded out 18 hits and almost batted around twice in an 11-run fifth inning that touched off the mercy rule.

As hot as his teammates were at the plate, none could touch Heaner, though. He's sizzling.

Heaner reached base all five times up Thursday and his seven RBIs set a school single-game record.

"He had a great, great game," Wesleyan coach Mike Shaheen said.

Actually, Heaner had a great, great series.

He was 6-for-11 with three homers and 11 RBIs in the three games against Landmark, definitely justifying his spot as the fourth hitter in the Wolves lineup.

Not bad for someone who was on the junior varsity a year ago and wasn't expected to be a regular this season.

"It's amazing," Shaheen said. "He hit his way into the lineup and stayed hot. I couldn't take him out."

No. 2-ranked Wesleyan (22-8) will have to travel to Savannah on Tuesday for its quarterfinal match-up with No. 4 Calvary Day (26-2), leaving Donn Gaebelein Field behind for possibly the rest of the state tournament.

The cozy ballpark has already worked its magic for the Wolves, though.

The pairing of Landmark (28-3) and Wesleyan was worth of a title series, rather than a second-round match-up.

After all, it had been in the finals where the teams played a year ago, also at Wesleyan. And this year's series was almost a carbon copy, to the delight of the Wolves and dismay of Landmark.

The teams split the opening doubleheader in tight games Wednesday, just like the series had unfolded a year ago. Then the Wolves battered Landmark in the deciding third game, with the score 11-1 last year.

Although the War Eagles won the coin flip to be designated the home team Thursday, there was no question who had the home edge.

"We take full advantage of the dimensions," Shaheen said. "We know how to play here. When you have a small ballpark, the other team comes in and swings for the fences. But we know that line drives get out, so you don't need to take a long swing. It's a huge advantage for us."

O'Leary, who hit his record 21st homer of the season in the series opener, didn't join the hit parade Thursday. Instead, he pitched the Wolves to the victory.

The senior shortstop who is headed to Furman took his turn on the mound and got the victory, allowing five hits, striking out six and walking two over the five innings.

All of Landmark's runs came on homers. Blake Austin hit a two-run homer in the first and a solo shot in the third. Drew McDuffie connected in the fourth.

Heaner's grand slam, his sixth homer of the season, capped a six-run second for the Wolves and set the tone for the victory.

"The grand slam was really big, because it took some of the pressure of," Shaheen said.

Conor Welton, red hot like Heaner, didn't homer Thursday, but he had three hits and also walked. The senior outfielder was 8-for-12 in the series and hit two home runs on Wednesday.

Wesleyan, which got to play four of the five series in the state tournament at home a year ago, will now have to hit the road.

Shaheen, though, puts a positive spin on having to go all the way to Savannah for the quarterfinals.

"I know this sounds bizarre and we love playing at home, but we wanted this," the coach said. "We haven't taken a trip like this in awhile. It will be fun."