It was three weeks of heartbreak in Ringgold, Ga.
On April 27, 2011, tornadoes ravaged the northwest Georgia town, destroying a portion of Ringgold High School and just about all of its athletic facilities, including Bill Womack Field, the ballpark also known as "Little Wrigley."
After cross-county rival Heritage offered the Tigers an opportunity to play their home postseason baseball games at its place, Ringgold lost its second-round playoff series at Columbus High.
The Tigers had won the first game convincingly behind star pitcher Matthew Crownover before Columbus rallied to win Game 2, then ultimately a nail-biting Game 3 en route to its second straight Georgia High School Association Class AAA state title. The season-ending loss was the second straight season the Tigers lost to Columbus. The two met in the Class AAA state championship series in 2010.
Today, the two will meet again for the Class AAA title, this time in Ringgold. Game 1 of the best-of-three series begins at 4 p.m., with the second game to follow. A third and deciding game, if needed, would be played at 3 p.m. Tuesday.
After the 2011 season, the Tigers had high expectations for a championship run. However, those hopes were tempered in early March, when Crownover, one of the nation's top pitching prospects, had to have Tommy John surgery and has missed the remainder of the season.
"Matthew found out he was going to have to have surgery, and we pulled together as a team," junior Slade Dale said. "Coach Brent Tucker helped pull us
together. Everybody picked up their roles, and we all came together."
The team Columbus High will face today will be a different one than the previous two. The Tigers boast a team full of standouts who are not only talented but have faced their share of adversity.
Their pitching rotation is a three-headed monster, consisting of seniors Corey Kafka and Adam Weldon and junior Austin Parrish. A fourth -- sophomore Logan Baldwin -- gives Ringgold a strong rotation.
"When Matthew went down, you could see those guys were ready to step forward," Tucker said. "This past year, these guys have definitely turned a negative into a positive. I think with everything that has happened, it's made them appreciate things. They have one goal and one purpose, and they haven't let anything distract them."
Even though all of the Tigers' starting lineup will play collegiate baseball, Columbus will encounter somewhat of a blue-collar team. Tucker said somebody different has stepped up all year.
Dale never knew the last year and a month would be so full of distractions. His home, located near the high school, was destroyed by the tornado. Then the field and batting cages were not completed until a few days before the season started. In fact, during the team's first game, the scoreboard had to be run off about 200 feet of extension cord.
Still, withoutCrownover, the Tigers captured the rugged Region 7-AAA title. They were pushed to a decisive Game 3 in the quarterfinals against LaGrange. Then last week, Ringgold handed Gainesville its first loss before prevailing in three games to advance to the state championship series.
"Our Blue Nation has been behind us all year," Dale said. "We're playing for our school."
The pitching staff has garnered a good bit of attention, but the Tigers have been potent offensively. Senior Allen Mocahbee and his twin brother, catcher Andy Mocahbee, have combined to hit 10 postseason homers. Dale has ripped eight doubles, while senior Reed Walden has been one of the team's clutch hitters. In addition, Wright Hackett has four two-out RBI hits.
"This is a loose group who likes to have fun," Tucker said. "In my 10 years, I can't think of a team I've enjoyed coaching the most."
Even with all of the heartbreak.