When the state playoffs began, both teams weren’t close to being among expected title contenders.
In fact, neither was in the GeorgiaDugoutPreview.com final regular-season Georgia High School Association Class AAAA baseball top 10 rankings.
But the best-of-three championship series Tuesday at State Mutual Stadium in Rome featured the Northside Patriots in the 17-year program’s first final against the Denmark Danes, a first-year program led by a former Northside head coach.
So the outcome would have been storybook either way. The Patriots made it their heroic tale.
And they did it in a stylish sweep, with scores that served as a microcosm of the two different ways they’ve beaten teams through these playoffs: first, a dramatic comeback for a 7-6 victory; then, a dominating, no-doubt 11-2 clincher.
“I’m just overwhelmed with excitement for our kids and our school,” said Northside head coach Dee Miller, who’s been with the program for 11 years, six as an assistant and five as the head coach. “It’s been a great postseason run.”
Northside senior Colton Joyner said, “It’s almost not even real. It’s crazy. … It’s like a dream come true. I’ve been working for this since I was a freshman, and it happened my senior year.”
In Game 1, trailing 5-1 in the fourth inning, the Patriots (32-8) tied it with a four-run frame, highlighted by sophomore Walt McConnell’s three-run double to right-center field.
“It never felt like we were down four,” Miller said. “We kept believing in our approach, and we kept believing we could score some runs.”
Joyner said, “It doesn’t matter how far down we are. We’re not going to quit.”
The Danes (21-19) went ahead 6-5 in their next at-bat, but the Patriots rallied in the bottom of the seventh for the victory.
Joyner delivered a one-out double, and sophomore Will Bryant pinch-ran for him. After junior Mack Williams was hit by a pitch, sophomore Connor O’Neal singled to load the bases.
Bryant scored the tying run on Spencer Chandler’s sacrifice fly to center. Then with two out, it looked like the game was headed to extra innings when freshman Justin Veloz lofted a flyball, but the left fielder dropped it, and Williams scored the winning run.
“I was kind of stunned,” Miller said. “He dropped it, but it wasn’t an easy play. He was running toward the foul line and overran it, and the ball just popped out.”
O’Neal led Northside’s batters with three of the team’s 12 hits. Joyner added two hits. In addition to McConnell’s three RBI, Chandler drove in two runs. Williams scored twice.
Joyner was Northside’s starting pitcher in Game 1. In three innings, he allowed five runs but only one earned on eight hits and no walks with no strikeouts. After senior Charles Stephenson allowed one run on three hits and one walk with no strikeouts in 2 1/3 innings, junior Hunter Poe earned the win with 1 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing one hit and one walk with no strikeouts.
Connor Sizemore, a sophomore, pitched a complete-game five-hitter for the victory in Game 2. He allowed two runs and two walks while striking out six.
“His stuff was good,” Miller said. “He just kept attacking.”
The Patriots jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning and stretched the margin to 6-0 in the third and 10-0 in the sixth. Northside’s hitting leaders among the team’s nine hits were Joyner (3-for-4, 2 RBI, run, walk), Poe (1-for-2, 3 runs, RBI, 2 walks), O’Neal (1-for-3, 3 RBI, walk) and senior Clayton Weaver (1-for-4, 2 runs, RBI, walk) .
Miller praised his players for their balance between calm and aggression — and picking the right times to tap into each mindset.
“This group played with good emotion and energy all postseason,” he said.
Joyner said, “It just shows the dedication this team has. No one is selfish, and everyone has their role and executes their role.”
Denmark head coach David Smart led the Patriots for six seasons (2009-14), compiling a 93-68 record with two state quarterfinal appearances, and Miller was one of his assistants.
GeorgiaDugoutPreview.com reported that Miller was one of Smart’s groomsmen and they remain close friends.
“I’m happy for him,” Smart said in the article. “I always said that, at some point, he would be playing for (a state baseball championship) and I wanted to be there to watch it, just not in the other dugout.”
Miller said in the article, “I don’t know that either of us want to play each other.”
The Region 1 third-seeded Patriots swept their first three state playoff series this year, including the first two in dominating fashion: 8-1 and 10-0 over Region 4 second seed Eastside; 9-1 and 11-3 over Region 2 fourth seed Perry; 3-1 and 4-2 over Region 5 first seed Cartersville. Then in the semifinals at Region 8 first seed North Oconee, the Patriots split the first two games, both with 6-5 scores, and prevailed 3-1 in the third game.
Denmark, the Region 7 fourth seed, swept Region 6 first seed Northwest Whitfield 8-5 and 11-2 and Region 8 third seed St. Pius X 7-1 and 8-3. Then the Danes emerged victorious in three games over Region 2 second seed West Laurens (8-1, 6-10, 7-2) and Region 7 first seed Blessed Trinity (3-6, 4-3, 8-4).
“We enjoyed being the underdogs,” said Joyner, who has signed to pitch for Columbus State University.
Miller offered another description for his team now: “You can call us state champs.”