Parkview's Marquis Webb and A.J. Davis kiss the Class AAAAA state championship trophy after the Panthers' stunning 21-10 come-from-behind victory against Hillgrove on Monday.
LILBURN — A half-inning. One incredible half-inning.
That’s what it took to separate evenly matched teams from Parkview and Hillgrove in the Class AAAAA state baseball championship series.
And in the top of the seventh of Monday’s third and deciding game, the Panthers sent 16 hitters to the plate, with 13 reaching base and all 13 eventually finding their way home.
Photo reprints from this game
When the dust finally settled, top-ranked Parkview had a zany 21-10 victory and its first state title since 2002, much to the delight of the Panther partisans in the overflow crowd at Hugh Buchanan Field.
“We have a saying (that if we) put up 10 singles, we’ll score eight runs,” Parkview coach Chan Brown said. “That’s been our motto. That’s what our pitching coach (David) Palmer talks about — How many (hits) can we string together? How many can we get?
“Maybe not that many runs, but we’ve done that all year.”
Indeed, the fact the Panthers (29-10) entered their fateful last at bat trailing 10-8 and having been held scoreless by Hillgrove (29-9) their previous three at bats didn’t seem to matter.
After all, they’d been in worse trouble before this season — rallying from seven runs down in a game, including once during the playoffs.
“We’d been in that scenario multiple times this season,” said sophomore centerfielder Josh Hart. “We got in our comfort zone that last inning. We just put all the pieces together.”
While Hart was the only Panther in the line up at the time without a hit in the seventh-inning outburst, he was one of the more important pieces that fell into place.
It was his sacrifice fly to left that followed consecutive hits by Jarrett Freeland, Rob Youngblood and Travis Naraine and pulled the Panthers even at 10-10 and gave them a new lease on life after they’d been down to their last three outs.
But it was Parkview’s most powerful bat throughout the season that put the Panthers in front to stay after Edwin Arias’ bloop single put two runners on with one out.
Matt Olson, the team’s leader in home runs, got ahead in the count against Hillgrove reliever Josh Hagerman, the hero of the Hawks’ Game 2 victory Saturday with 72⁄3 innings of relief.
And he jumped on a curveball to deliver just his third hit of the series, and his third homer, a three-run blast that cleared the batting cage behind the right-field wall and landed on the softball field below to give Parkview a 13-10 lead.
“I was looking for a fastball with a 2-1 count,” said Olson, who hit his team-best 17th homer of the season. “It was curveball, but I just kept my hands back. I just thought we had to take the lead right there. (Saturday) night, we were able to keep it even, but normally when that happens, the team that’s home (and has the last at bat) has the advantage.”
But the Panthers made sure that wouldn’t be an issue.
Jeff Ronpirin immediately followed with a solo homer, Youngblood and Naraine each drove in two more runs on their second trips to the plate in the inning, and Arias added a three-run homer — his second bomb of the game and third of the series.
When the half-inning finally ended, Parkview had given pitcher Jack Esmonde (4-1), who had already been solid out of the bullpen, plenty of cushion.
Given the fact Hillgrove had already come back several times in the series, including putting up six runs in the third inning behind an RBI double from Tyler Mauzy and a two-run homer by Tyler Graham to turn an 8-4 deficit into a 10-8 lead.
But Esmonde got some slick glovework behind him in the bottom of inning, including a nifty double-play turned by Naraine and Arias for the finals outs, to close out 42⁄3 shutout innings with four strikeouts in one of his longest outings of the season.
And there were plenty of other heroes for the Panthers on Monday.
Arias finished the day 4-for-5 with the two homers and six RBIs, Freeland was 4-for-4 with a three-run homer and Naraine was 3-for-5 with five RBIs.
Mauzy, Jeff Motley and Robert Stewart each had two hits for Hillgrove.
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