JEFFERSON -- Douglas vs. Tyson. The '88 Dodgers vs. Oakland As. David vs. Goliath.
The Jefferson baseball team put itself up for contention on the list of massive upset successes last week courtesy a semifinal sweep of Blessed Trinity.
And how best to follow that up than by winning the whole thing?
The Dragons' 10-7 victory in Game 1 and a 2-0 shutout in Game 2 made it on to a few national websites and showed that Jefferson is very much for real as it sets up for next week's Class 4A title shot. And the reason was simple. The Titans came into the series rated by some national polls as No. 1 in the nation. MaxPreps tabbed Blessed Trinity as No. 3. As for Jefferson -- No. 593 nationally. It certainly looked a complete mismatch.
Tommy Knight, in his 18th season as Dragons coach, said they knew the odds coming into the series. They just didn’t care.
“We never pay attention to that kind of stuff,” he said. “On our board in our locker room it says, ‘Why Not Us?’ That’s been our attitude and there was no reason to change that just because we had to play them.
“Blessed Trinity is a great team for good reasons. For us it’s always about what we do and not what the other team is doing. Once the game started we felt as long as we did our thing we had a chance.”
Now, they will turn their attention to another perennial powerhouse in Cartersville, which also notched a semifinal sweep, taking out Heritage, Catoosa in two games, and will be making its ninth championship series appearance. The Purple Hurricanes last won a state title in 2013 -- knocking off North Hall in the Class 3A finals -- and also won championships in '09, '08 and '03.
The Dragons, meanwhile, are making just their second-ever appearance in a championship series, losing to Blessed Trinity in the Class 3A 2015 title series.
The two teams’ will meet at State Mutual Stadium, home of the Rome Braves, in Rome, on Monday. First pitch of the doubleheader is scheduled for 5 p.m. Game 3, if necessary, will be on Wednesday with a time yet to be determined.
It won’t be the first time in State Mutual Stadium for the Dragons, who lost to Class 5A semifinalist Flowery Branch 2-1 back in March in Rome.
“I don’t know much about (Cartersville) other than they are historically a great program and will be tough,” Knight said. “But it doesn’t matter to us who we play or where we play. Hopefully there will be a little bit of comfort for the guys having been (to the stadium) before. It’s a tremendous facility and we’re very excited to have this opportunity. Definitely looking forward to it.”
After their performances in the semifinals, the Dragons have every reason for optimism.
Upon examination of the two semifinal victories, the Dragons used their red-hot playoff offense in the opener while then getting the stellar pitching that has carried them all season in the clincher.
In the first game, after falling behind 1-0 early, the Dragons answered with a three-run third. The three runs were more than the Titans had allowed in six of their previous seven playoff games. Jefferson backed that up with one in the fourth and three more in the fifth. After the Titans used a three-run sixth to get within 7-4, the offense again answered with three runs in the seventh. The 10 runs were nearly as many runs as the Titans had allowed through the first three rounds total (15). All nine guys in the lineup got at least one hit and seven different players drove in runs, led by Zac Corbin with three RBI on a two-run double and a solo home run and Mason Cooper with two RBI.
Blessed Trinity did score three unearned runs in the bottom of the seventh and had the tying run at the plate but Derek Vaughn got Griffin McClure, who had doubled twice in the game, to fly out to end it.
All of that was in support of Region 8-4A Pitcher of the Year Patrick Hickox, who allowed just three earned runs.
“Our offense picked up about three weeks before the end of the regular season and has really picked it up even more in the playoffs. They are swinging the bats well right now,” Knight said. “There were maybe two big keys in that first game. Even though we got down early, the guys didn’t panic. They had been down several times in games in the playoffs and had come back so they just kept working.
“Then, every time they scored, we answered right back. I don’t think (Blessed Trinity) was expecting that. We were able to extend the lead and when we were up 7-1 late in the game with Pat on the mound we felt pretty good.”
In Game 2, it was the Lane Watkins show. Watkins went the distance tossing a five-hit shutout while the offense got just enough. The 2-0 victory was the first shutout loss for Blessed Trinity since March 6, 2015 against St. Pius, ironically a 2-0 defeat, and snapped the Titans 148-game streak without being shutout.
“Wow,” Knight said. “I did not know that. We certainly did not expect a shutout. All I can say is that when Lane is on, he’s as good as anyone I’ve seen. He was on in that game.”
The only runs came on RBI hits by Sammy Elegreet and Cooper in a two-run fourth.
The Titans did get the tying run to the plate in each of the final three innings but went 0-for-5 with RISP as Watkins got four flyouts and a strikeout in the pressure situations to clinch the improbable series win.
Taking a moment to reflect on just how big an accomplishment the Dragons feat was, Knight admitted a sweep of one of the nation’s top teams was not something they were expecting before the day started.
“I don’t know how big of an upset that is considered but I have to say it’s pretty cool to know that it got some national recognition. It was an amazing series from our standpoint,” he said. “Honestly, when you go into a series against a team with a reputation like they have, you’re thinking that if you can get to a Game 3, where anything can happen, you’d be happy with that.
“But our guys couldn’t care less about stats and a team’s stature. I know my guys and the amount of heart they have. They may not be the most talented team in the state but they work hard and do the things needed to win. They played a great series and deserved to win, upset or not.”