Small ball carries Gray Collegiate baseball into first state title appearance

·3 min read
Chris Dearing Photo

Gray Collegiate coach Charlie Assey Sr. has been around a long time, and he has had teams win in a variety of different ways.

He has turned this War Eagles squad into a fine-tuned version of small ball. The ultimate result has Gray Collegiate reaching the state championship series for the first time after the War Eagles rallied for two runs in the bottom of the sixth to defeat St. Joseph’s 3-2 and claim the Class 2A Upper State Championship on Wednesday evening.

“The first year, we got to this point, but we didn’t win this game. Last year, we didn’t make it to this point. This year, we’ve gotten further than anyone has, set a record for most wins in school history,” said Assey, who is in his third season. “We needed to get over the hump. This is the first time we’ve been in the two-out-of-three situation. Hopefully, we can make some noise in the next round, but we took the next step for our program.”

Gray Collegiate (26-5) will open the best-of-three championship series on the road against Andrew Jackson on Saturday. Assey was last in a state championship series when he won it all at Brookland-Cayce in 1998.

Trailing 2-1, Gavin Creede started the winning rally with a base hit with one out. Pinch-runner Tanner Ouzts stole second then advanced to third on an infield single by Peyton Starkey. The Knights intentionally walked Brent Stukes to load the bases.

A fielder’s choice recorded an out at the plate, but the War Eagles still had the bases loaded. Blaine Redmond hit a slow grounder to third that he barely beat to first, scoring Starkey with the tying run.

Blake Wadlington then hit a high chopper to third that couldn’t be fielded, allowing Stukes to score the winning run.

“It didn’t look pretty throughout the ballgame. Their guy had us off-balance all day. We couldn’t get anything going with him. At the end, we found a way to get it done. That’s what we’ve been doing all year long. All we needed is one win and now we have a chance,” Assey said.

“We do that all the time. That’s what we do. We get criticized for that a lot. Before we came in to hit, I told them two runs and three hits and we’re out of here.”

After the War Eagles took the lead, Assey turned to the staff ace, Stukes, to close it out. St. Joseph’s had the tying run on second base, but Stukes got a strikeout to end the game.

The biggest play came with one out and a runner on first when Savion Smith ran down a ball into the left-centerfield gap for the second out.

“First off, JT (Edwards) did a great job to start off the ballgame. He got us farther than I thought, then Blake McKoy came in, then we were going to go to Austin Floyd,” Assey said. “But we knew if we had a lead and it was very close, we were going to go to (Stukes) and try to shut it down right there and not have to play a second game.”

WP: Blake McKoy. Save: Brent Stukes. LP: L McMillen. Hitters: GC – Peyton Starkey 1-3; Stukes RBI; Blaine Redmond RBI.