Campus baseball makes it a three-peat as state champs

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(Photos by Michael Clifton / www.kombatkamera.com)

maclifton051316138Special to Fayette Newspapers

These days, The Campus athletic director Kellen Owens is quietly using the D Word when he talks about The Campus Baseball Program. In this case, the D word he refers to is dynasty.
“We have had an incredible run these past three years. Winning one championship is hard, repeating is even harder, but to win three in a row is truly special because we know just how hard it is to be able to maintain that level of excellence” stated Owens.
This past weekend, The Campus, a small private school located in Peachtree City traveled to Watkinsville to take on Westminster Christian Academy for the state championship of the Georgia Independent Christian Athletic Association (GICAA). The GICAA is now the second largest high school sports sanctioning body in the state, right behind the Georgia High School Association (GHSA).
The Campus came into the best-of-three series with confidence as two-time defending state champions, having won it all in 2014 and again last season. Game one on Friday was a hard fought battle with sophomore Connor Simmons pitching for The Campus against Westminster’s Harrison Ricketts. The game was tied 2-2 into the sixth inning when Westminster’s John Mark Daniell tripled, scoring Hollan Johnson, who had singled to lead off the inning. That was all that Ricketts needed, going the distance to beat The Campus by a final score of 4-2 in game one.
The Campus knew they had their work cut out for them for game two in the series, knowing they had to win to push the championship to a deciding game three. First year Coach Tyler Toma also knew exactly who The Campus would be facing on the mound. Westminster wanted to close out this series by throwing their ace, junior CJ Smith. Smith is a highly-touted left handed pitcher who consistently tops 86 mph and has committed to play for the University of Georgia. What Westminster did not know was that Toma was going to give his ace, senior Thomas Wicker, the ball to go out and win the must-win game for The Campus. Wicker pitched a masterful seven inning complete game for The Campus, while striking out 9 Lions and only giving up 2 hits. Smith was on his game too, striking out 10 Campus hitters and giving up 4 hits. The game was scoreless into the bottom of the fourth, when Campus catcher Seth Thomason hit a hard shot to the Lions third baseman with Wicker on third base. Wicker scored as the throw to first was offline and Thomason was safe. Two innings later, in the bottom of the sixth inning, Thomason singled up the middle with two outs, plating Connor Simmons who was on second base after an earlier single. Wicker closed out the Westminster hitters in the top of the seventh to secure the 2-0 victory for The Campus.
It all came down to a winner-take-all contest on Saturday in Watkinsville. The Campus, having won the coin toss, elected to be home team. Coach Toma started his other senior hurler, Mincho Herod, against the Lions. Westminster scratched out a run in the top of the first. In the bottom of the first, The Campus jumped out to a 5-1 lead against Westminster hurler Hollan Johnson, first on a two-run double by DJ Mitchell, a sacrifice fly by Mincho Herod, an RBI single by Mikey Akins, and a sacrifice fly by David Free.
After Westminster scratched out a couple of runs in the third inning, The Campus had a 5-3 lead in the bottom of the sixth when DJ Mitchell hit his second ground rule double of the game to lead off the inning. That was followed by a Herod single and Mikey Akins hit a long sacrifice fly to center, scoring Mitchell. Ira Clifton then singled and with runners on second and third, Kevin Akins, younger brother of Mikey, hit another sacrifice fly to center, scoring Herod. Little did The Campus know how important that run would be when the dust settled about 20 minutes later.
Coach Toma brought in Thomas Wicker, winning pitcher in game two, to relieve Herod, who had scattered 6 hits and only walked one in a pressure-filled performance. The inning started well with Wicker striking out the first batter of the inning. That is when it got interesting with the next batter walking, followed by a two-run homer by Harrision Ricketts to make it 7-5. CJ Smith, who had been killing the ball all series then proceeded to line out to third.
With two outs, it looked like the game was in hand, but Westminster now singled, hit another single, drew a walk to load the bases, then took a wild pitch to make it 7-6. Another walk loaded the bases again.
Wicker then struck out Westminster’s Christian Delmarter on a full count and the dogpile ensued at the mound. The Campus had just won their third straight state championship, making them the only high school in Fayette County to be able to claim that honor. It’s a fitting end for a senior class that finishes with three titles and an 18-5 state playoff record.
Afterwards, Coach Toma reflected on this past season. “To start the season, our guys really were not playing as a group, and, while we were winning, we were not playing for each other. We had a lot of leadership step up with this team. Seniors Mincho Herod, Preston Willis, Thomas Wicker, and Seth Thomason helped show these guys what it means to be a family and to love and play for your brother. While it’s been an incredible season and I am proud of this team winning the state championship, I am just as proud of each and every one of our players playing as a team, and they realize that they are brothers for the rest of their lives.”
When Campus athletic director Kellen Owens is asked how The Campus is going to top this run of three State Championships, he pauses and then smiles as he says, “Hey, these guys all still have fingers that have room for another state championship ring. We started working on that this week.”

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