MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Glenwood had been defined by its pitching staff all season.
And the Gators’ hurlers came through on the largest stage imaginable Wednesday. Taking on third-ranked Pike Liberal Arts in the AISA Class AAA championship series at Paterson Field in Montgomery, Ala., Glenwood swept both ends of a doubleheader. The Gators took Game 1 by a score of 6-1 and followed it up with a 4-1 victory in Game 2 to capture their 20th state championship.
The performance of Glenwood’s (34-10) dynamic starting pitching duo — Tanner Thomason and Lawson Humphries, who combined for 17 strikeouts and just two earned runs in 14 innings Wednesday — didn’t surprise Tim Fanning.
“We got ahead and just threw strikes. We made plays, with the exception of a couple botches here and there, but the defense was flawless and we kept attacking the zone and did it at the biggest time,” Glenwood’s coach said. “Pike’s a good team. They’ve got some good hitters, and in my opinion the best player (Chandler Avant) in our association. To hold him down was very key. It’s how we play: We get guys on, get them over, get them in. We’re not going to hit the ball all over the park, but (we) just do what it takes to get runs across the plate. That’s what they did, and I’m proud of them.”
Both games followed the same script: Neither team scored in the first three innings.
When the fourth inning rolled around, Glenwood surged, putting three runs on the board in the first game and four in the second.
And they were backed by magnificent efforts from the mound.
Thomason, the Gators’ ace, went all seven innings, recording four strikeouts, scattering five hits and allowing only one earned run.
But on this day, the towering 6-foot-8 senior took a backseat to his junior counterpart.
Humphries was spectacular in his complete game victory, matching what he said was a personal-best with 13 strikeouts. And while he gave up just a single run, he had to work out a pair of jams. In the second inning, the bases were loaded with no outs.
He responded by striking out the side.
Then in the sixth, the Patriots (27-12) got a leadoff single followed by a walk.
Humphries promptly struck out the next three batters, ending Pike’s — down 4-1 at the time — final scoring thrust.
When asked about his clutch showing, Humphries simply shrugged.
“I guess your best stuff comes out when your back’s against the wall,” said Humphries, a three-sport star who was also the starting quarterback for the football team and the starting point guard for the basketball squad.
From the moment the first pitch left his fingers, Humphries felt a special day could be in store.
“My arm felt great,” he said. “(Catcher Duke) Coleman back there behind the plate was blocking up everything, doing his best. Me and him were just on the same page today. Every pitch that he called, I wanted. It was just I can’t really describe it. It’s just something that happens every once in a while.”
In addition to his pitching prowess, Humphries notched a hit and scored a run in both games, earned him capture the series’ most valuable player award. He cared far more about adding yet another title to the Gators’ already illustrious trophy case. It’s a legacy they can’t escape.
Before every playoff game, Humphries said Fanning would receive “about 50 (phone) calls” from former players. Many were members of Fanning’s previous championship teams, as he also won titles at Glenwood in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011.
One concept has remained the same in each of those title runs.
“You don’t do it for yourself. You do it for your teammates and you do it for your school and you do it for the people around you,” Humphries said. “That’s what Coach Fanning tells us and we believe it. And it will have results. You don’t do stuff for yourself. You do stuff for others. Coach Fanning has really been more of a father figure to us than a coach.”
Of the six championships the Gators have won during his tenure, Fanning admitted this was the most unlikely. Few gave them a chance at the beginning of the season. It's the youngest team he's ever coached, with just five seniors and with two freshmen and two sophomores in the starting lineup.
But they persevered to reach the pinnacle once more.
"We’re so spoiled and blessed with what God gives us, but it hasn’t been from a lack of effort," Fanning said. "All our kids have that goal and sometimes you don’t reach (it). "... But they did whatever it took, they listened and they were so unselfish and didn’t care about stats. It was about wins, 'playing for the G' and serving the program. I’m so proud that this group gets to leave with a championship.”
Friday at Paterson Field
WP--Tanner Thomason. LP--Connor Vowell. Leading hitters: Pike-- Chandler Avant: 1-for-4, single, R, stolen base. Glenwood-- Matthew Brabston: 2-for-3, two singles, RBI, R.
Friday at Paterson Field
WP--Lawson Humphries. LP--Chandler Avant. Leading hitters: Glenwood-- Chad Silvani: 1-for-3, double, RBI, R. Pike--Vowell: 1-for-2, single, R.