From staff reports
NOXAPATER - The Hamilton Lions had it. Now the Noxapater Tigers have it.
In the Class 1A baseball finals Saturday, Noxapater got a third inning home run from pitcher Andy Young to grab the lead, then a sixth inning grand slam from Judd Sanborn to break the game open and give the Tigers their first state championship in any sport, 11-2.
"Most people thought we would not be back here," said Hamilton coach Lewis Earnest after losing key members from the 1997 championship team. "I'm proud these kids proved them wrong."
The Lions (23-6) started in the first inning trying to prove they could overcome a one-game deficit trying to repeat as state champions. Hamilton busted out the home run sticks in the first inning as Brandon Kennedy took a Young fastball over the center field fence, followed by a towering opposite field shot by Chris George for a 2-0 lead.
"After the first inning, I told the kids to hang in there," said Noxapater coach Eddy Pierce, who is in his ninth season at the Winston County school. "I felt if we could hold them to two runs, we could come back."
And come back Noxapater (29-2) did.
While Young settled down and allowed only two hits the next six innings, it took the Tigers eight batters before getting their first hit off Hamilton starter Jeremy West. Chad Carter did the honors with a leadoff double in the bottom of the third inning.
Carter later scored on a throwing error for the Tigers' first run, then Young made up for the two home runs he allowed by slamming one to left field, giving Noxapater a 3-2 lead.
"A home run we didn't get might have made a bit of difference," said Earnest, referring to a top of the third inning line-shot by Ashley Davidson that was called foul instead of fair. "A 3-0 lead might have been better than a 2-0 lead."
The Tigers' lead became 5-2 in the fifth inning, and in the process knocked West out of the contest after a six-strikeout, two-walk performance. After two were out, three singles and a walk plated the two runs.
The sixth inning iced the state championship for the Tigers, who scored two runs before Sanborn's grand slam to left field. Young finished off the Lions in the seventh inning on a groundout, a strikeout and fly out to give the Tigers the 2-0 series sweep.
The Noxapater senior struck out 10 while walking only two, one in the third and the other in the seventh inning.
"After the first inning, Young settled down and threw strikes," Pierce said. "That kept his pitch count down and allowed him to finish the ball game."
Of the four Hamilton hits, Kennedy and George had all of them, two each. Besides his grand slam, Noxapater's Sanborn also had a 2-run single in the fifth to total six RBIs for the contest.
Class 1A State Championship Series
Noxapater 11, Hamilton 2
Hamilton 200 000 0 - 2 4 1
Noxapater 003 026 x - 11 10 2
WP: Andy Young. LP: Jeremy West. Multiple Hits: (N) Justin Yates 2, Judd Sanborn 2; (H) Brandon Kennedy 2, Chris George 2. 2B: (N) Jeremy Woods, Donny Boatner, Chad Carter. HR: (N) Young, Sanborn; (H) Kennedy, George.
Records: Noxapater 29-2, Hamilton 23-6.
Notes: Noxapater wins the series 2-0 and earns its first state championship in any sport. Hamilton was the defending 1A champ.