- DAVE PAUL, For the AJC
Newnan — Water fell from the sky on a nearly cloudless afternoon Monday at Northgate High School.
Sure, the glistening beads of precipitation were launched into the sunny sky and onto the outfield grass from a nearby fire truck. But it was fun just the same for any willing member of the Northgate baseball team to take an impromptu victory shower, for the Vikings had just won the Class AAAA title with a 12-8 win over cross-county rival Starr's Mill.
"That's what makes it worth it, right there," said Northgate coach Greg Hamilton, who was all smiles as he watched his watered-down players scale the left-field wall and perch themselves atop the fence for a photo in front of the scoreboard.
It was the first state title for Northgate in baseball.
"We demand a lot from them," said Hamilton, whose team finished with a school-record 32 wins against just five losses. "This was our year. Sometimes we work just as hard and don't get to this spot.
"But it's very satisfying, especially for the kids."
Northgate scored eight runs in the first inning and chased Starr's Mill pitcher Danny Beadling from the game after he threw 35 pitches and recorded two outs.
Starr's Mill (26-9) never gave up, however. The Panthers scored eight runs in the final three innings.
Northgate pitcher Conner Kendrick was masterful through four innings, allowing just one base runner, and he took an 11-0 lead into the fifth inning. But he gave up a two-run home run to catcher David Norman and an RBI single to shortstop Myles Jaye before being pulled for Paul Rojas with two outs in the fifth.
"We got into a huge hole there in the first inning," Starr's Mill coach Brent Moseley said. "We finally got back on in the fifth. We gave ourselves a chance to win, but they came out a little more ready than we were. They hit the ball extremely well."
Vikings senior second baseman Derek Hooper scored twice in the first inning as Northgate sent 12 batters to the plate. Hooper set the pace for the Vikings in the title game by going 3-for-3 with a home run, a walk and two RBIs.
Starr's Mill added two runs in the sixth inning and three more in the top of the seventh, but the first-inning onslaught was too much to overcome in the final game of the best-of-three championship series. Northgate won four out of five meetings against Starr's Mill this season.
"We got it to a different level [this year]," Moseley said. "We finally got over that hump and got to the state championship series. We're proud of it.
"We'd liked to have played a little better early [Monday], but heck, tip your hat to Northgate."