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Woodward blast ends Rebels' season
Dramatic ninth-inning homer caps sweep
Josh Moreland starts to take his lead after a single to left field. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

Moreland 2RBI Double

Josh Moreland, 2 RBI Double

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Effingham County’s season ended with a bang and not a whimper.

Brennan May hammered a 1-1 pitch for a game-winning and series-clinching homer in the bottom of the ninth inning as the Woodward Academy War Eagles swept their Class AAAA first round best of three series from the Rebels on Thursday night.

May’s solo shot with one out in the ninth — the War Eagles were the home team for the second game — gave the No. 4-ranked War Eagles (24-4) a 5-4 victory after they had drubbed the Rebels 18-1 in the opener.

“I was real proud of my guys in that second ballgame,” War Eagles coach Jim Minor said.

For Rebels coach Brett Griffin, the heartbreak was evident as Effingham’s season came to an end at 16-12.

“They did a great job all year,” he said of his team. “They gave themselves a chance to win all year. They’re a great group of kids.”

Woodward blew open the first game with 14 runs in the last two innings, 11 coming in the seventh. But the Rebels rebounded to take an early 2-0 lead in the second game, without the benefit of a hit, and led 4-1 on Josh Moreland’s two-out, two-run double to right field off starter Matt Barger.

May’s homer backed winning pitcher Richard Vance, who threw four perfect innings and struck out nine Rebel batters. Vance, a senior headed to Birmingham-Southern, was the War Eagles’ ace last year. Vance and Barger combined to allow only one baserunner over the last six innings.

“He never looked like the Vance of his junior year,” Minor said. “But he came out and looked it tonight.”

Woodward tied the game 4-4 in the bottom of the fifth, but neither mounted much of a threat after that. Justin Wilson turned a double play in the seventh to end the inning, snaring a soft liner and throwing to first to get pinch-runner Delino DeShields.

Corey Caldwell retired five of the first six batters he faced, until May went down and smashed his low curveball for the game-winner.

As the innings dragged on and the teams remained deadlocked at 4-4, Minor sensed his team was getting too tight.

“The pressure builds up,” he said. “We were all wound up. I told them, ‘we’re not doing a good job at the plate because we’re so tight. You can’t play baseball if you’re all tense’.”

But the veteran coach doubts his words of wisdom may have led to May’s winning blast.

“I think that might have been a player with some talent coming up big,” Minor said.

Said Griffin, “He’s just a good hitter. That was a good curveball.”

Dotson went 6 1/3 innings, allowing Cory Betterson’s second homer of the day in the second inning. Betterson also hit a grand slam in the seventh in the first game but left after getting hurt while stealing second in the fourth inning of Game 2.

Leading 2-1 in the second, Griffin also gambled with two outs. With runners on first and second, Spencer Jackson hustled to second base to beat out a force play, then the relay to first was too late to get D.J. Collins. Moreland, on second when the play began, raced around third, but Betterson alertly fired home to catcher Brandon Miller just in time to get Moreland at the plate.

The Rebels turned a double play and picked two runners off in the first game, but the War Eagles returned the favor in the nightcap with a double play to end the fifth and Ben Condon made a handful of great plays and strong throws from shortstop.

Dotson was lifted after giving up a one-out single in the seventh, having thrown 89 pitches.

“I knew Zach was throwing well,” Griffin said. “But in the back of your mind, you know they can hit the ball.”

The War Eagles showed that much in the first game, especially over the final two innings. May and Miller each went 2-for-4, with May driving in two runs and Miller plating four as the War Eagles pounded out 16 hits. They scored six runs in the seventh with two outs and started their four-run sixth-inning rally after the first two batters were retired.

“That first game, they’re a whole lot better than that,” Minor said of the Rebels. “We’ve had that happen to us. Sometimes, things get out of hand. We knew they had a real good team.”

The Rebels also were hurt by seven errors and nine walks. Eight of the batters who reached by a base on balls eventually scored. Steven Proctor started and went six-plus innings.

“I thought we had a good week of practice,” Griffin said. “We didn’t play that bad the first game. The walks killed us.”

Sam Long, bound for the Naval Academy, held the Rebels to six hits and retired 10 of the final 13 after Marshall Edwards’ RBI infield single. 

Woodward Academy, who finished tied with Starr’s Mill and Northgate at 13-3 in the region but fell to third on three tiebreakers, will face the winner of the Lee County-Northside Warner Robins series.