LAWRENCEVILLE — It took Georgia Gwinnett College's baseball team a couple of innings to get going Monday in the A.I.I. conference tournament finals. But once it got going, it didn’t stop.
The Grizzlies’ offense drove three runs home in the second inning and four more in the third before delivering a knockout blow with a seven-run fourth, including a grand slam by Cord Johnson, against Talladega en route to a 21-2 victory that delivered the fourth conference title in program history.
“Our guys came out ready to go,” GGC coach Brad Stromdahl said. “We really did a good job of executing, playing where your feet are. We’re so happy for the program, our administration, everybody that is behind the scenes. … To be able to put yourself in a position to be able to win a conference championship, I think it’s very, very important that we put our best foot forward.”
Talldega’s pitching began to struggle as the game went on, especially in the fourth inning. Already down 7-1, six out of seven batters were walked — the string only broken up with a sacrifice bunt by Nick Barnes — and the Tornadoes were down 10-1. Johnson then hit his grand slam to clear the bases, stretching the lead to 14-1.
The Tornadoes (26-24), who will advance to the NAIA tournament Opening Round along with the Grizzlies, started off well and brought home a run in their half of the first inning. Julian Lopez led off the game by drawing a walk from GGC starter Gregory Loukinen, and he came around to score after a pair of singles by Alexis Ventura and Manuel Caballero.
Loukinen was a little shaky in the second inning as well, allowing a bunt single and walk and hitting a batter to load the bases with one out. But he settled down and got Lopez and Ventura to fly out to left field, stranding the bases loaded and allowing the Grizzly offense to go to work.
GGC (43-11) heated up in the bottom of the second with four doubles in the inning. Alex Garland, Johnson and Lanier grad Cam Coursey each drove in runs and gave the Grizzlies a 3-1 lead after two. Coursey’s double extended his hitting streak to 25 games.
The third inning was more of the same for GGC, with tournament Most Outstanding Player C.J. Ballard doubling and eventually scoring. A throwing error by Talladega third baseman Manuel Gonzalez on a grounder by Barnes was costly, allowing three unearned runs to cross the plate in the inning.
Ballard earned the MOP award with six hits, six runs scored and six RBIs in GGC’s three tournament games.
“I don’t think I took (the tournament games) differently from any other game,” Ballard said. “I just came in here and tried to do my job. Sometimes it works out for you.”
The Grizzlies continued to put runs on the board, failing to score only in the first inning out of the eight in which they batted. They posted a run in the fifth, two runs in the sixth, three runs in the seventh and a final run in the eighth to pad their lead.
The Tornadoes used a single by Caballero and RBI double by Hamlet Flores in the fifth inning to plate their second run. But it wasn’t near enough to counter the Grizzlies’ offensive outburst.
In addition to Ballard being named MOP, the A.I.I. all-tournament team consisted of Barnes, Coursey, Hunter Caudelle, and Pedro Garcia from GGC, Flores, Wilkin Louis, and Julian Fitts from Talladega, Johann Doerrer and Jonathan Rosado from Fisher College, Levi Sigler and Will Boggs from Edward Waters College, and Max Pulley from College of the Ozarks.
The NAIA Opening Round selections and placements will be announced Thursday. GGC will host games May 13-16.