CHICKAMAUGA, Ga. - The boys who make up the Gordon Lee High School baseball program's class of 2021 made quite the on-field impression when they first arrived on campus - and not in the best way.
Trojans coach Mike Dunfee, who is about to lead those seniors and their teammates into another GHSA Class A public school championship series, laughs when he recalls the early days of a group that has compiled a 103-18 record and two state championships.
"They're a group that when they came in as freshmen, they knew they had some talent," Dunfee said. "They were a little immature and quite cocky, but it's been fun to see them mature and grow."
That growth required some tough love, though. The Trojans were coming off a state runner-up finish in 2017, but the new guys were a little too full of themselves one day early in practice.
"Their freshman year at one practice, I was so mad at this group that I went over to the upperclassmen and got them started on practice, and then I went to the freshmen and made them run for an hour and a half," Dunfee said, laughing again. "They came in too confident and cocky, so I had to humble them."
Senior catcher Brody Cobb remembers the day well.
"I remember all of us thinking that we were the stuff," said Cobb, who leads the team with 13 home runs and 58 RBIs this season. "We were cocky, no doubt. At that practice we had to run A LOT, so I learned not to act like that any more."
The large senior group - it also includes future University of Georgia pitcher Jake Poindexter, Griff Collins, Riley King, Jackson Moore, Jacob Neal, Cade Peterson, Logan Simerley and Cody Thomas - is still confident, but now that confidence is built on accomplishments instead of reputation.
The Trojans (35-3) rolled to a 12-0 mark in Region 6-A play to win the league title this year, and they swept through the first three rounds of state - outscoring Glascock County, Washington-Wilkes and Wilcox County a combined 63-14 - before losing their opener against ACE Charter in the semifinals by a run. They responded by outscoring the Gryphons 25-6 in the final two games to secure a spot in the title series against Region 3 champion Metter (27-8), which has swept all four of its state series so far and will be playing close to home as it goes for the first championship in program history.
The best-of-three series starts with a 5 p.m. doubleheader Friday at Grayson Stadium in Savannah. If necessary, a third game would be played at noon Saturday.
To a man, the Trojans believe they would be going for a fourth consecutive title if last year's season had not been cut short due to the GHSA calling off spring sports amid the COVID-19 pandemic. That unfortunate experience - which included watching 2020 seniors J.D. Day, Will Sizemore and Jake Wright lose their final season - gave this team a bit of extra motivation.
"It was horrible, especially seeing those seniors not get to play," said Cobb, who has had a big postseason, including a home run and four RBIs as the Trojans overcame their early stumble to win the semifinal series against ACE. "It makes us a lot more motivated because we knew it could end at any time. For most of this year, we weren't sure what would happen."
What happened is the Trojans have been ranked No. 1 in their classification the entire season.
In addition to Cobb's big numbers - which include a .437 average, a .559 on-base percentage, a .951 slugging percentage and a sizzling 1.510 on-base plus slugging percentage - the team has benefited from big years at the plate by Peterson (.466 average, seven homers, 51 RBIs, 47 runs) and sophomores Kade Cowan (.450, 13 doubles, 36 RBIs, 54 runs), Nate Dunfee (.371, 60 runs, 29 RBIs) and Blake Rodgers (.354, 33 RBIs, 13 doubles).
Poindexter and Thomas, who rejoined the team after recovering from a knee injury that happened during football season, are also hitting over .300 for a team that has a .494 on-base percentage and has more walks (240) than strikeouts (206). Poindexter, a four-year starter, has a 2.32 ERA as the team's No. 1 pitcher, with sophomores Bo Rhudy (0.56 ERA) and Rodgers (1.98 ERA) joining senior King (3.00 ERA) to form a strong staff.
Ask Coach Dunfee what stands out about his team, however, and he doesn't mention talent.
Instead, he talks about how close the team is, and it all starts with the seniors.
"They played together growing up, and they truly care about each other," he said. "We've seen it on the football field, where most of these guys have also played together forever. And nearly all these baseball players grew up watching the guys who came before them, and they all wanted to wear that uniform.
"This group is fun to watch, and I will say this: It's been a wild ride."