Houston County’s victory over defending-champion Pope in the Class 6A state championship at CoolRay Field in Gwinnett County marked the programs fourth state title and second in three years after the Bears won the 2021 6A championship.
“We have to tip our hats to Houston County,” said Pope head coach Chris Turco in the post-game press conference. “The guys said that the pitchers were really hard to hit.”
Houston County opened the series with an 8-3 victory in the first game and captured the championship with a 7-4 effort in the second game.
In the first game, Houston County held the Greyhounds scoreless through five innings while adding five runs in the bottom of the third inning and two runs in the bottom of the fourth inning to take control. The Bears added one run in the bottom of the sixth inning to secure the win.
“One thing about our lineup and our kids, they have a lot of confidence at the plate,” said Houston County head coach Matt Hopkins. “I believe with today, if I am not mistaken, we broke out single season scoring record, which we set in 2021. I think we scored 345 runs this year. The thing about our lineup is that you might keep us down for an inning or two, but if you let our guys see you enough, they’re going to get to you a little bit.”
In Game 2, Houston County scored two runs in the top of the third inning but allowed one run to Pope in the bottom of the inning. The Bears added to the lead with a 2-run effort in the top of the fourth inning and added a run in the top of the fifth inning to lead 5-1 entering the bottom of the fifth inning. Pope scored on run in the bottom of the fifth and each program added two runs in the sixth inning to cap scoring.
“I think the biggest thing is that their (pitcher) lost control a little bit,” said Hopkins. “And we started being patient. We talked to our guys and, especially after we made the play, throwing the kid out at the plate, we got excited and lost our evenness a bit after leadoff triple. You could feel the momentum swing, we got a bit too up and too excited. Once we were able to change our approach, we started to see some pitches, he gave us some free bags and then we had some guys that can swing it and put some good bat on ball and we put up five runs really quick.”
The offensive production for Houston County was record-setting but the players knew that the defending-champions were there for a reason and that no lead was safe.
“No lead is safe against Pope, you know how it is,” said senior outfielder Elijah Smith. “We could put up a 10-spot and they could come back just like that.”
As with all state championships, the final out, play, run or basket is a core memory that will last a lifetime and for Smith, he was ready. Especially after the quarterfinal loss to Buford in a three-game series last season.
“That’s what we think about all year,” he said. “Last year, when we lost against Buford, that’s the first thing we thought about and said that we had to get back. We have to. The last out was very similar to the final out in 2021 when we won it, so that’s kind of crazy to think about it. It’s an unbelievable feeling and I love this team. I love them.”
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