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Joey Allen was in a serious slump a few weeks ago.
“I was taking way too many strikes early in the count, and I wasn’t swinging the bat at the pitches that I wanted,” he said. “So, I just had to attack early.”
Allen got his chance on Saturday.
With the Gators trailing Highland School by a run in the sixth inning, Allen came up with the bases loaded and no outs.
Facing a 2-1 pitch, he delivered with a three-run double to left-center to help Greenbrier Christian beat Highland School, of Warrenton, 7-6 to win the VISAA Division II state title at Shepherd Stadium. It was the program’s 14th state title, but the first one since 2016.
Before he went to the plate, Allen gave himself a pep talk.
“I was thinking, ‘Don’t let him get to me. Swing at my pitch,’” he told himself before the at-bat. “Worst-case scenario, I was saying just hit something up, so I could bring in a run.”
Gators coach Patrick Nichols said he knew Allen could do it.
“When he hit the ball, the emotions flooded in me so much,” he said. “Joey has proven himself to be a competitor and a champion. I love it that he was able to come through in that moment because a couple of weeks ago he was not going as good as he has the last week. He’s been on fire the last week.”
Things, however, didn’t start well for the Gators (21-6).
They got behind 3-0 early as the Hawks scored on starter Bailey Matela. James McGrady came in for relief.
First baseman Ethan Ott helped get the Gators back in it with a three-run homer in the third inning.
“I can always count on him to pick us up,” McGrady said about Ott. “He makes it happen when he needs to.”
The Hawks added runs in the third and fourth, but the Gators scored one in the top of the fifth to make it 5-4.
In the bottom of the fifth, Highland (24-6) had a chance to open the game when the Hawks loaded the bases with no outs.
“Honestly, I couldn’t get a feel for any of my pitches,” McGrady said. “Coach came out to do a mound visit, and that’s what really got me back focused. From then on, I found it. When I got the strikeout, I knew we had a shot.”
The big play came when the next batter hit a long, high fly to Bailey, who caught the ball and threw a dart to catcher Luke Culpepper for the inning-ending double play.
“I didn’t think (the Highland runner) was going to tag at first,” McGrady said. “But then when he did, I knew Bailey has a strong arm out there, so I knew we had a chance to throw him out.”
“That was big because that was the tone-setter right there,” said Allen, a senior. “That shifted the momentum from them to us.”
That also set up Allen’s late-game heroics.
“It’s just a great feeling,” said Allen, who went 3 for 3 with a walk. “I still can’t believe it.”
“That’s all we wanted all year,” added McGrady, a senior. “We lost to this team my sophomore year, and we didn’t have a season last year. Just to go out with a win and bring back a state championship is unbelievable.”
Greenbrier Christian 7, Highland 6
Greenbrier Christian 003 013 0 - 7 9 3
Highland 211 101 0 - 6 8 1