Ringgold overcomes late delay to sweep series, reach GHSA baseball title round

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Ringgold's Sam Crew runs to first base during a GHSA Class AAA playoff game against visiting Savannah Christian on Saturday.

RINGGOLD, Ga. — Not even an ill-timed intervention by Mother Nature could derail the Ringgold baseball express from reaching its destination.

The Tigers waited out a weather delay for an hour to get the final three outs in Saturday's GHSA Class AAA semifinal sweep of Savannah Christian Prep at Bill Womack Field, with senior Sam Crew setting down the visitors in order to win game two, 4-3.

That followed senior Ross Norman's one-hit, 12-strikeout gem in winning game one of the best-of-three series, 1-0.

Ringgold (32-7) will next face Harlem at Rome's AdventHealth Stadium in a best-of-three series starting either Friday or Saturday with a doubleheader. Harlem is seeking its eighth state title and first since 1986, while the Tigers are chasing a championship breakthrough.

"They've earned every single bit of it," Ringgold coach Drew Walker said. "They've overcome adversity all year long and controlled the controllables, and I don't know anything more adverse that could happen than what just happened.

"We told them it was going to be a dogfight, and that they had to leave everything they had on the field because it was the last time, win or lose, the seniors would play on this field. They left their legacy on this place, and they've earned every single bit of it."

Game one was a duel between Norman and Savannah Christian's Blaine Burnsed. Norman, after throwing a no-hitter in the quarterfinal round against Columbus one week earlier, had only one trouble spot Saturday.

The Raiders (29-8), after fanning six times while going down in order over the first three innings, got a one-out bunt single by Eli Brown. After a strikeout and a walk, both runners moved up after a wild pitch, but Norman struck out Burnsed to end the threat. Only one more runner would reach.

The Tigers, after stranding runners in scoring position in the first and fourth innings, used some small ball — and quite a bit of good fortune — to plate the game's only run. Cade Tankersley singled with one out, with courtesy runner Hudson Moss taking second on a steal and third on a wild pitch.

Two batters later, a squeeze bunt attempt was missed, but the Savannah Christian catcher threw wildly to third trying to get Moss, with the run scoring. Norman made it stand up with a one-two-three top of the seventh.

"Everything was working before the game, so I knew it was on today," Norman said. "I feel pretty confident about myself, so all I concentrate on is working fast and keeping them off balance. Today I felt I could throw anything at any count."

In the second game, the Raiders took a 3-1 lead after four innings with three home runs off Ringgold starter Sebastian Haggard — two in the third by Josh Gates and Tyson Graham and one by David Strickland that landed on the football practice field well beyond the left-field fence.

Haggard, however, retired the final nine batters he faced to give the Tigers a shot at rallying against Savannah Christian starter Strickland.

They did just that with two runs in the sixth — again aided by a key error. Ringgold loaded the bases with no one out, but Crew hit a hard grounder that turned into a forceout at home. However, the catcher's throw trying to get Crew at first sailed over the first baseman, with the tying runs scoring. Ringgold loaded the bases back up, but Strickland fanned Norman looking on a 3-2 pitch and got Aiden Hickman to ground out to keep the game tied.

In the top of the seventh, Haggard worked a one-out walk and courtesy runner Garrett Edgar took second on a wild pitch, then tagged up on Conner Christopher's flyout to reach third. Ty Gilbert was hit by a pitch and Crew, who was warming up in the bullpen, raced in to bat, where he hit the first fastball he saw into left field to drive in the go-ahead run.

"I was gassed," Crew admitted. "I just warmed up, and Coach tells me I'm on deck. I didn't get to see the pitcher and didn't know what he had, so I just went up there, saw a fastball and tried to poke it through a hole."

Moments later, as he was warming up on the mound, lightning was detected, sending the players off the field. Two minutes later, as the "B-Team Grounds Crew" was readying the tarp, heavy rain started to come down.

Play resumed an hour later, and Crew needed only 10 pitches to seal the finals bid, getting two strikeouts.

"For them to come back out and for a senior to come back out after getting the big hit and then to get three big outs is huge after an hour rain delay," Walker said of Crew. "He's rock solid as can be.

"To come back like that — and it's something we haven't done after losing the second game in the last two series — after Sea-Bass (Haggard) gave up three homers, including two monstrous bombs, he could have shut it down. I mean, one of their guys bat-flipped over the dugout, but he didn't care. He was able to flush it and kept them at three, and we came back."

Contact Lindsey Young at lyoung@timesfreepress.com.