Forsyth County's Payton Light dives safely back to first as Greenbrier pitcher Michael Newman fires the ball to first baseman Rich Poythress during the quarterfinal game on Wednesday at the Brierpatch.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
After dispatching a feisty North Forsyth team, Greenbrier is a mere two series' away from the fourth state baseball title in eight years.
The only problem is that they have to go through the Columbus Blue Devils to return to the state finals. The best of three state semifinals starts tomorrow at the Brierpatch.
The Wolfpack will square off against a Columbus team that had won 26 straight games since Mid-March before losing to St. Pius X, 9-7, in the second half of a doubleheader in their state quarterfinals matchup. The Blue Devils' only other loss came in a March tournament in LaGrange, Ga., against Gulliver Prep of Miami, Fla.
That isn't all, though.
The Blue Devils (31-2) are ranked sixth in the nation by Baseball America and USA Today and are ranked as the second-best team in the South by USA Today behind Riverside High in Greer, S.C.
After his Hardaway Hawks eliminated Lakeside from the playoffs, coach Tracy Powell said the Blue Devils "Might be the best high school baseball team I've ever seen." Hardaway and Columbus play in the same region and are rivals.
"They are ranked nationally and play in an area rich in baseball tradition," said Greenbrier Ed Williams, after learning that his Wolfpack would be matched up with Columbus. "I have been so focused on North Forsyth that I haven't really had a chance to look ahead, but I know they are a great team."
The Wolfpack (28-3) maintained a routine practice schedule with two-hour workouts on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and had a light workout scheduled for today .
Greenbrier earned its way into the "Final Four" after playing its first elimination game of the playoffs. The Wolfpack split a doubleheader (4-2, 1-3) on Tuesday but rebounded and eliminated the Raiders Wednesday with a 8-6 victory.
Michael Newman pitches against the North Forsyth Raiders during the state playoff game at the Brierpatch on Tuesday.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Michael Newman showed why he hasn't lost a game this season, picking up both wins in the series to push his record to 12-0 on the season. He threw more than 12 innings and more than 200 pitches over 27 hours, and endured a very sore back throughout Game 1. Newman added a solo home run in Game 1 and reached base five of the eight times he came to bat in the series. He even picked off two runners on his Tuesday start.
"I couldn't ask for any more from a kid," said Williams after the series. "He put us on his shoulders and carried us to the next round."
The Wolfpack bats came alive in Game 3 after remaining largely dormant during the Tuesday doubleheader.
In Game 2, Greenbrier had nine hits but managed only one run while stranding 11 base runners.
"We got guys in scoring position, but (South Forsyth) made good plays," said Williams after Game 2.
The Wolfpack collected nine hits for the second straight game on Wednesday, but this time they scored eight runs. Rich Poythress hit a two-run home run in the first inning and drove in three for the game.
"The pitcher threw the same hanging curve in row and I sat on it and tried to drive it," said Poythress, who also got the save in relief of Newman in Game 1 and 3. "We definitely wanted to come up and take advantage of runners in scoring position."
Newman believed the rejuvenated offense helped his pitching in Game 3, even though he struggled and surrendered six runs.
"We were swinging the bats real well and you can just work easier with a lead," said Newman, referring to Greenbrier's 4-0 advantage in the first two innings of Game 3. "We moved the runners better and came up with big hits."
Northgate High in Palmetto and Hardaway will play in the other state semifinals. The teams meet in a doubleheader 4 p.m. Monday, with a third game, if necessary, on Tuesday.
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