Walton wins Class AAAAAA state title
Walton players remembered the sting from getting swept in the state finals last season to Parkview and watching the Panthers celebrate a state baseball championship.
The Raiders weren't about to let that happen in 2016.
After Walton run-ruled Pope 11-1 in the first game behind pitcher Zac Kristofak's complete-game victory, Jason Avers' walkoff single with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning scored a pair of runs and helped the Raiders steal a 5-4 thriller and sweep the best-of-three Class AAAAAA state championship series on Saturday.
It was Walton's first state title since 2007.
The two teams, who both competed in Region 5-AAAAAA, split the regular season meetings. Walton lost an additional region game to Woodstock and Pope finished as the region champions.
Both teams were 8-0 in postseason play and hadn't needed a Game 3. Walton (32-4) ended its season on a 14-game winning streak, including a 10-0 mark in the playoffs which included sweeps of Archer, Lee County, Lambert and Norcross.
Avers drove the first pitch he saw from Pope's Josh Lowe into left field, scoring the tying and game-winning runs.
Then a wild party ensued.
“It’s been 365 days that I’ve thought about it,” Walton coach Shane Amos told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Hats off to these guys for just coming out here and playing their hearts out. It’s been a goal since last year. We had a goal to win two more, and we got those two more today.”
Pope had taken a 4-3 lead in the top of the seventh on Antonio Jaren's sacrifice fly. But Walton wouldn't go away quietly.
Parker McCoy opened the inning with a walk, then Carter Kieboom reached on a ground-rule double before the Greyhounds intentionally walked outfielder Jason Rooks, who had terrorized Pope's pitching in the series.
Rooks belted two homers in the Game 1 victory, including a grand slam during a six-run seventh inning. While he went hitless in Game 2, the junior finished 4 for 5 with two homers and five RBIs in the Game 1 rout.
Walton staked itself to a 1-0 lead in the first inning of Game 1, then added three more in the second to grab a commanding 4-0 lead.
Kristofak ran his record to 10-3 with the victory.
In Game 2, Pope started quickly. Mason Meadows gave the Greyhounds a 1-0 lead with an RBI single before Walton scored a pair of runs in the third inning. Pope regained the lead at 3-2 in the fifth before Avers tied the game in the sixth on a wild pitch.
“We knew it was going to be a battle in the second game,” Amos told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “We knew they weren’t going to give in or give up. Our kids responded there at the end. The guys coming up were all seniors, but the junior got the game-winning hit on a walkoff, so that’s fantastic.”
In Game 1, Drake Frix went 2 for 3 with a pair of RBIs, while Michael Guldberg finished 2 for 4 with an RBI.
Ethan Lawson and Jake Pralgo each went 2 for 3 to lead Pope.
In Game 2, Kieboom went 2 for 4, while Gulberg finished 2 for 2. Walton reliever Forest Wilson earned the victory in relief after working just two-thirds of an inning.
Lawson and Jareno finished with two hits each for the Greyhounds (28-8).
Editor's note: Information from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and GameChanger were used in this story.