BY WIL CREWS
SMITHS STATION —
The Glenwood varsity baseball team’s chase for a state title ended last week as the Gators were eliminated by the Pike Liberal Arts Patriots in the AISA Class AAA state championship series.
“It was a great year, but we just didn’t finish with two victories,” said head coach Tim Fanning.
The Gators and Patriots battled in game one of the series — a contest mainly decided on the mound — but Glenwood failed to post any runs and lost a tightly contested matchup, 1-0. Glenwood’s starting sophomore pitcher, Brandon McCraine, went toe-to-toe with the opposition’s starter — who is committed to play for Auburn University next fall — throwing seven innings and allowing just five hits and one run, with eight strikeouts.
“Brandon pitched his tail off.” Fanning said. “He battled; I think they started seven seniors; it was very impressive.”
Fanning said the turning point of game one came when the Gators had their best opportunity to break the game open from a scoring standpoint. With the bases loaded, the Patriot shortstop made a diving catch play to prevent any Glenwood base runners from crossing home plate.
“We had every opportunity to win game one, [their pitcher] on the mound was just lights out,” Fanning said. “And the shortstop made that diving play which just kind of broke our backs.”
The Gators came out flat in the second game and never recovered, as senior Colton Dempsey took a loss in his final performance for Glenwood, a 6-1 defeat conceding the championship to Pike. Although the Gators had posted consistent hitting performance all season, the bats went dry in the final two games.
“All year we stayed pretty consistent in offensive attack,” Fanning said. “We had speed, we hit a ton of double and quite a few home runs. It made everything easier. From the get-go, I felt like if we could get to game three we would have an advantage. [The Patriots] were better than us on the mound.”
Having secured a first-round playoff bye with an impressive, 36-5 regular season record, Glenwood built momentum on the way to the championship series by completing two-game sweeps of both Tuscaloosa Academy and Morgan Academy in the second and third round of the state tournament, winning four games by a score of 49-14. Individual playoff performances from Jake Smith, Jaxon Milam and McCraine were enough to earn the players recognition on the All-Tournament Team, and Glenwood’s first two series were just a glimpse into the dominance that helped the Gators rip off a 20-game and 16-game win streak in the regular season.
“I’ve coached a long time and won a lot of state championship, but [the loss] don’t take away,” Fanning said. “I haven’t had too many teams to win 40 games.”
Despite ending up on the wrong end of the scoreboard, Fanning is proud of the work his team put in to make it as far as the state championship.
“We had a lot of guys step up,” Fanning said.
In particular, Fanning is pleased with his five seniors — Dempsey, Ty and Jake Smith, Blakely Estes and J.D. Wilkes — who exemplified the work ethic needed to succeed from the start of the offseason to the final pitch.
“It started in the offseason and they were just great leaders in the weight room, on the field and off the field,” Fanning said. “Some of the transformations they made to their bodies, their games, it was just a lot of hard work and focus. They were such great leaders all year and it would have been great to send them out [with a win], but it doesn’t diminish their contribution to this program. They are some of the best leaders I have ever coached.”
The loss means the Gators remain in search for their first state championship since 2017. The win for Pike meant the Patriots continued their recent span of dominance, crowing them state champions for the fourth year running.
Heading into the offseason, the Gators will get some much needed rest; however, Glenwood will reload next year in pursuit of the ever-present dream of a state championship, with a probable 13 soon-to-be-seniors returning to take another crack at achieving baseball immortality.
“We had some folks who had amazing offensive years to be honest, and a lot of them are coming back,” Fanning said. “So it’s exciting.”