Photo: David McGregor Members of Brookwood's baseball team celebrate the Broncos 7-4 game three victory over Grayson in the Class AAAAA State semifinals on Tuesday afternoon in Snellville. The Broncos will face county rival Parkview for the state title.
SNELLVILLE -- One of the most coveted things for a pitcher is to be the starter in a series-clinching game, surpassed only by being the one standing on the mound when that game is won.
Brookwood starter Ryan Woodard experienced both of those on Tuesday night.
Facing region-rival Grayson in the third and deciding game of the Class AAAAA state semifinals, Woodard dodged baserunners in every inning to log a complete game as the Broncos held off the Rams 7-4.
The win puts Brookwood in the Class AAAAA state championship series Saturday, where the Broncos (25-10) will travel to Lilburn and face another region rival in Parkview for the title.
"I didn't have my best stuff and really had to rely on my defense behind me," Woodard said, who allowed four runs on eight hits with five strikeouts and five walks. "I was begging after the sixth inning (to finish the game). I had to tell my coach my arm felt great and had to go back in. I had it in my head tonight wouldn't be successful unless I go the distance for my team."
Brookwood head coach Rick Howard was hesitant at first to allow Woodard to go in for the seventh inning, but a talk in the dugout during the sixth changed his mind.
"He had to make sure I knew that he was fine," Howard said. "His pitch count was a little higher than I would've wanted but I felt like this game was his. He earned it and has thrown his tail off this year. He really wanted it."
Woodard received plenty of early cushion as the Broncos, who were the visiting team via Monday night's coin toss, sent 11 hitters to the plate in the top of the first, scoring five runs on nine hits.
"Those five runs helped me relax a ton," Woodard said, who tallied 137 pitches on the night.
Cedric Mullins opened the game with double and moved to third on a single by Jordan Dykes.
Michael Gouge, who finished 2-for-4 with two runs and an RBI, drove home Mullins on an RBI single. Woodard then provided support for himself with a two-run double to left center.
Lucas Sims kept the inning going with a single, while Garrett Reynolds' single to left two hitters later chased Grayson starter Griffin Ebel from the game after recording just one out.
Korey Anderson followed in relief and allowed just one inherited runner to score on an RBI single from Tre Lawrence.
The inning would've been worse, but leftfielder Carter Collins gunned down Clint Carr at home after Zach Moon's single.
When Anderson finally retired the side, Brookwood had already put five runs on the board on nine hits.
"That really put us behind the eight ball," Grayson head coach Seth Rhine said. "We just couldn't seem to get them out that inning."
Grayson (27-9) began its climb out of the hole in the bottom of the first with a run when Jeril Dawson scored on an RBI groundout by Taylor Allum. Dawson had a solid game in the leadoff spot, going 2-for-2 with two walks and two runs.
Anderson then settled in for the Rams and kept the Broncos at bay, not allowing a hit until a single by Reynolds in the sixth. Anderson finished with five innings, allowing one earned run on five hits with three strikeouts.
The Rams kept putting pressure on Woodard by putting at least one runner on base in every inning, finally getting two runs across in the bottom of the fifth.
Collins had the big hit for the Rams in that frame when he doubled to left to push across pinch runner Juan Flores and to put runners at second and third with one out.
Facing Austin Meadows, who finished 2-for-4 with two doubles, Woodard bore down to record the strikeout. Woodard nearly got out of the inning unscathed, but a wild pitch allowed Dawson to score before retiring the side with a strikeout of Allum.
"We've been down other times this year and felt that if we could've put an inning or two together, we would've been right back in this one," Rhine said. "We just didn't get the hit we needed."
Holding a 5-3 lead, Brookwood tacked on an insurance run in each of the sixth and seventh inning. Lawrence drove in Reynolds in the sixth on an RBI double, while Gouge scored in the seventh on an infield error that would've ended the inning.
Woodard again allowed runners in the seventh, putting two men on with a walk and a double with out, but a strikeout of Allum and a fly out to right by Jack Banda sent his Brookwood teammates storming onto the field in celebration.
"I can't say enough about these guys," Howard said. "They have taken so many opportunities and made the most of them. They had to find themselves back in April (after a 9-7 start), but once they did, they've just taken off."
The win sets up a championship series against the defending state champs and archrival Parkview Saturday, with Game 3 to be played on Monday if needed.
"It's going to be a crazy atmosphere over there," Woodard said.