Class A private state championship preview

Posted 5/12/16

By Tim Morse

Georgia Dugout Preview

Hebron Christian coach Ben Drust has coached a lot of baseball in his career. He's witnessed strange plays and weird games as a college assistant coach at UAB, then he's seen some in high school, too.
But the first-year Hebron coach admits he hasn't seen anything like the postseason the Lions have had so far.
"They are a very tight-knit group," Drust said of the Lions, who will meet Tattnall Square in the Georgia High School Association Class A private school state championship series on Saturday.
"They've been playing together for a long time and they don't want something like this to end."
The doubleheader begins at 3 p.m. on Saturday at Tattnall Square in Macon. If Game 3 is needed, it would be played at 5:30 p.m. on Monday.
After losing the Region 8-A championship to George Walton in a three-game series during the last week of the regular season, Hebron Christian (29-6) swept Walker in the postseason before needing three games to oust George Walton in a second-round rematch.
Then the Lions lost to two-time defending state champion Kings Ridge in Game 1, 5-3. Hebron, playing as the home team in Game 2, trailed 5-1 heading into its final at bat.
With a runner on base and two outs, the Lions started their comeback.
Tyler Calvert doubled to score a run, then three hit batsmen and a walk pulled the Lions to 5-4 with the bases still loaded. Luke Crawford's walk-off double plated a pair of runs for a dramatic 6-5 victory to keep the season alive.
Hebron finished off Kings Ridge in Game 3, 5-3, after overcoming a 3-1 deficit with a three-run sixth inning. The biggest blow was a two-run triple by Sloan Bennett to tie, then Shane Smith scored the go-ahead run. Spence Johns then finished off the Tigers with a dominating complete-game pitching performance.
Drust said he hasn't pinned a nickname.
"I can't compare these guys to anything else," Drust said. "They're confident, not arrogant. It's humbling for me to see something like that."
Drust knows Tattnall brings a stiff challenge.
"Looking at all of their stats and everything, I don't know how they lost the six or seven games," Drust said. "They have those two great pitchers and they have multiple guys hitting over .400 with lots of RBIs and stolen bases. They are a very solid ball club."
Tattnall Square (25-7) boasts a pitching rotation that consists of Cory Bartholomew (11-2, 0.81 ERA) and Garrett Houston (13-1, 1.40 ERA). The Trojans, in just their second year of playing in the GHSA, are seeking their first title after winning eight in the Georgia Independent Schools Association since 2000.
"Cory has been pitching in big games for us since he was a freshman," Tattnall coach Joey Hiller said. "He's no stranger to pitching in some big games."
Jake Hershman and Ben Coker have been Hebron's top two pitchers this season, but Johns has been clutch in the postseason.
The Lions will be looking to shut down a Tattnall offense that has quietly put up impressive numbers. They have been led by outfielder Nick DiPonzio (.429 avg.) and shortstop Blake Simmons (.422 avg., 31 RBIs).
After falling to Kings Ridge in the state semifinal series last year, Tattnall is aiming to make its mark in the GHSA as well.
"Hopefully, our guys will go out there and play good ball," Hiller said. "I just want us to play well. If we do that, we can hold our heads high regardless of the outcome."