Greenbrier's baseball team lived up to the hype again.
As many expected, The Wolfpack claimed its fourth baseball state championship since the school opened 10 years ago with a two-game sweep over Marist in the Class AAAA state title series Saturday.
"This is so good for the community. You can look at the attendance and see that," Greenbrier coach Ed Williams said.
A standing-room-only crowd filled the area between the dugouts at Greenbrier. More fans lined both sides of the field. Others watched from the outfield fence.
Most came to see Greenbrier, ranked No. 10 by Sports Illustrated in its recent nationwide high school baseball poll, fulfill a seasonlong expectation to claim a state title. Although the Wolfpack won the two games 3-1, 10-0, things didn't go exactly as expected.
Marist couldn't touch the hot Wolfpack, but Mother Nature did. The championship series, originally scheduled to begin Friday, was bumped to Saturday after heavy thunderstorms flooded the field Friday afternoon.
The only thunder heard on Saturday came from the bat of Greenbrier senior Chris "Fud" Johnson. The shortstop launched three home runs for the day and drove in six RBI to lead the Wolfpack to two wins, a 35-1 record and its first baseball state championship since 1999.
"He was hot all year. It couldn't have happened to a better kid," Greenbrier senior Rich Poythress said of Johnson.
The Wolfpack and its fans rushed the field and hoisted Johnson into the air during the postgame celebration, but the home-run hitting shortstop was quick to point out he wasn't the only hero. Sophomore Nolan Belcher and junior Brandon Cumpton both threw complete games on Saturday and gave up a combined one run on six hits. Cumpton also hit a home run in Game 1.
"Our pitching carried us this whole year," Johnson said. "If it weren't for Nolan and Brandon we wouldn't even be here."
Belcher started Game 1 for Greenbrier with a seven-inning performance that saw Marist score once and strike out 10 times. Poythress started the scoring in Greenbrier's third at-bat of Game 2 with a double to score junior Jeff Rowland. Marist managed one run in the sixth inning but several mistakes cost the visiting team any chance at a win. Belcher picked off two Marist base runners, and the Marist infield dropped two pop-up foul balls. The second dropped pop-up came off the bat of Cumpton in the fifth inning. Two pitches later, Cumpton used the second chance to slam a home run over the right-field fence.
Cumpton took the mound in Game 2 and threw a complete-game shutout. On offense, Johnson hit his longest home run of the year in the fifth inning on a blast that cleared the first group of pine trees beyond center field. Williams said the center field fence extends 358 feet from home plate, and the first pine trees are another 20 feet.
"I can't remember a ball that was ever hit that far here," Williams said. "It's one of the longest we've ever had here for sure."
The Wolfpack season, which ends with a 35-1 record and the most wins in school history, signaled the end for seven Wolfpack seniors.
Along with Johnson and Poythress, Cal Morris, Tim Thornhill, Rafael Parks, Matt King and Josh Deeves all saw their high school careers come to an end on Saturday.
"Everybody had their parts, and everybody played the hero at some point this year," Poythress said. "We're a great team."
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.