They didn't know it at the time, but a casual conversation between Greenbrier High School outfielders Scott Wandless and Philip Tapley signaled the close of a diamond legacy at the Brierpatch.
The Wolfpack had just beaten Marist in Game 1 of the Class AAAA state playoff semifinals on May 24. As the Pack prepared for the second game of the doubleheader, Tapley said, "One win away from the dance."
Sophomore right fielder Wandless responded, "You haven't been there since your freshman year, have you?"
"No, and I really, really, really want to go back," Tapley, a senior, replied from center. "It's the funnest thing you could ever imagine."
The Pack players were talking about competing in the state championship series.
As it turned out, Marist won Game 2, then captured the best-of-three series with a Game 3 victory on Memorial Day.
With the loss, Tapley finished his high school career with only one visit to "the dance." As a freshman, he was part of the Greenbrier squad which claimed its third straight state title.
Tapley was the only member of the 2002 team who also had played in the 1999 state championship against Marist.
This season, in a way, was the end of an era - Tapley was the final link with the Pack's championship run under former coach Terry Holder.
But in 2003, Ed Williams is prepared to start a new tradition in his fourth campaign as Greenbrier's head baseball coach.
"Next year it will be a new group of kids who have never been there before," Williams said. "But we have some kids coming back who have gotten a taste of the playoffs and they know how it feels. So, I'm looking forward to that group coming up."
Greenbrier loses seven seniors to graduation: Tapley, Russell Carter, Creswell Curtis, Graham Posey, Mike Walden, Robert Davis and Nick Wandless. Tapley and Davis are headed to Manatee Junior College on a baseball scholarship, while Wandless earned a deal with USC Aiken.
Prior to spring, Wandless was best known as a football player, but in his first season as a starting pitcher, he posted a 12-2 record to pace the Pack to a Region 3-AAAA title and the state semifinals.
Despite the season-ending loss to Marist, Wandless was proud of what his team was able to accomplish. "No one really picked us to go this far," he said. "We had a good run at it. We just weren't the best team in the state this year."
Just being the best team in Region 3-AAAA will be difficult next season.
With the Georgia High School Association's reclassification going into effect for the 2002-03 school year, Jones County, Cross Creek and Baldwin will join the Pack's region. Jones County advanced to the Class AAAA semifinals this season, and Cross Creek qualified for the Class AAA state playoffs.
Throw in Statesboro, Burke County and Lakeside, and the Pack figures to be a in a real battle for one of four state playoff berths available in Region 3-AAAA.
Nick Wandless won't be around to help next year, but he believes the Pack will find a way to keep the tradition going.
"I expect nothing but good things from this team," he said. "They're all good baseball players and they'll do a good job. But I'm going to miss Greenbrier - it was fun playing here."
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.