It had been eight years since G.W. Long had won a state championship in baseball.
That doesn’t sound like a long time for some baseball programs but in Skipperville, eight years can seem like a lifetime.
“It’s not pressure, it’s just knowing that there is a standard set at the school,” said tournament most valuable player Garrett Davis minutes after the Rebels captured their state-record 13th championship with a 5-0 victory over Westbrook Christian on Friday morning at Riverwalk Stadium. “That’s what you live by there. You play for that. At the beginning of the year, we set our goals to win our area, then every single round (of the playoffs). We achieved every single goal we had set.”
The Rebels (32-8) captured the Class 2A state championship with the same formula they — and many of their predecessors — used throughout the regular season.
“That’s been the heart and soul of our team all year, pitching and defense,” G.W. Long coach Drew Miller said. “The last half of the year, we really bought into trying to make the routine plays. We didn’t make the routine plays today, we made great plays. And that’s the sign of a great championship team.”
Drew Miller knows all about championship teams. He won trophies at G.W. Long in 1994, 1995 and 1997 for his father Earl, the coach of many of those 12 championships won between 1980 and 2005. And while he would never admit it, the proud residents of Skipperville were often unrealistic in their demands to see G.W. Long add to the trophy collection.
“Sometimes, it’s hard to fathom the magnitude of what we did in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s,” Miller said. “It was an unbelievable run we made. Sometimes, you take some of those things for granted, and I think sometimes people did and don’t realize how hard it is. It’s not an easy thing. Only players who have done something special like this realize that.”
For the second straight day, the Rebels used a solid pitching performance to keep the Warriors’ hot bats in check. On Thursday, Davis held Westbrook to four hits in a 3-2 victory. On Friday, it was Tristan Rice (8-2) who held the Warriors to four hits in another complete-game performance.
“Tristan did a good job,” Westbrook Christian coach Matt Kennedy said. “We knew a little about him. He didn’t throw real hard, but he kept us off balance really well. That’s what pitchers are supposed to do.”
Davis won most valuable player honors after going 2-for-3 both days at the plate in addition to his Thursday work on the mound.
“I hit the ball really well,” Davis said. “I think that boosted my confidence both pitching and with defense. I don’t have the best bat in the world, but I swung it well this week, and I think it picked up everybody else. When I swung the bat well, it helped our whole team.”
Now, after eight long years, the school needs to make more room in the trophy case.
“It’s very humbling,” said Miller, choking back emotions. “It’s been overwhelming this week, the support we’ve gotten from our community. I don’t know what my cell phone bill is going to be. These guys know I get emotional sometimes because I was a part of this and this was a very special part of my family’s life. The texts and calls this week are in the hundreds from people I haven’t heard from in a while. Guys I saw today, I saw in 1998 and I haven’t seen them since. That’s how special this program is, to not only the players but people in the community.”
It was Miller’s first championship as a head coach, giving him a different perspective of the struggle to return G.W. Long to the top.
“I think probably the biggest difference is going to be the look in the kids’ eyes,” he said. “That’s what my goal was the whole time, to be fortunate enough to get the same look I had, the same feeling I had.”
For Westbrook Christian (25-15), the finish didn’t take away from finally reaching the finals after trips to the semifinals in 2011 and the quarterfinals in 2010 and 2012.
“Obviously, if you get all the way here, and you get to watch the other team dogpile and grab that blue trophy, that hurts,” Westbrook shortstop Alex Perkins said. “But, all in all, we had an awesome season. We had a great run. We’re definitely not disappointed in the season, but we’re disappointed in the outcome of today. But they just did the little things they had to do to win and we didn’t.”
For G.W. Long, their seniors predicted, it could be the start of another string of championship trophies.
“I think it’ll bring the tradition back to the school,” Davis predicted. “I think it’ll last for a long time. I think it’ll keep going.”