Years from now, Brady Rollins will say he ripped the ball to the historic Grayson Stadium scoreboard.
Maybe just a couple of years from now, Bud Veal will have more state championship rings than fingers.
But coach Chad Starley said it best: All of the 2022 John Milledge Academy Trojans will be able to call themselves state baseball champions.
In the top of the eighth inning under the starry night in Savannah, Rollins was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. That was the deciding run of Game 3 of the GISA AAA championship series, John Milledge winning 6-5 against defending champion Pinewood Christian. It was a game where the Trojans had the biggest lead either side enjoyed in two days – 5-2 – and that wasn’t enough. In the sixth and seventh innings, the Patriots erased that deficit to force the second extra-inning game at Grayson.
John Milledge won Game 1 in eight frames 4-3, and that too was as the ‘visiting’ team.
Keaton Prior, Game 1 winning pitcher, recalled losing the 2021 finals to Pinewood Christian in three games after taking a 1-0 lead.
“This year we couldn’t let up,” he said. “It was hard to come back (after a 2-0 Game 2 loss this year), but we did it.”
Prior made a relief appearance in Game 3 with 23 pitches left. In the bottom of the eighth, he turned the baseball over to Veal, who had yet to toe the pitching rubber in the playoffs. The centerfielder faced three batters, walked one, but was the one to record the final out, a fly ball to Briggs Eady in right.
“I have all the confidence in (Veal),” said Prior. “He’s not going to let anybody bother him.”
Rollins was comparing how he hit in Game 1 (well) to Game 2 (struggled) and was high on the pitching, for he is the catcher.
“They kept us in the game,” said Rollins. “Right at the end we brought in a guy who hasn’t pitched much this year, but he dealt and got us what we needed.”
But did he think when taking that HB, that it would be the GW RBI?
“I was sure hoping so,” he said. “I was hoping we wouldn’t have to do all this again.
“I ripped it over the centerfield wall.”
Too many witnesses know better but still see him as a hero.
For Veal, first it was a walk-off inside the park home run that caused Trojans to pile on him in the quarterfinals. Now, a save. Quite a postseason.
“We practice day and night,” said the sophomore. He said Pinewood was.a good team that JMA out-battled. It was a struggle, but Veal said Starley’s message is to always stay up because there will always be ups and downs in baseball.
“Now I’m going to try and get (a championship) in basketball,” he said.
Starley could now enjoy the atmosphere of the Savannah Bananas and Grayson. He and his Pinewood Christian counterpart often had words with the umpiring crew since nothing was inconsequential.
“It was probably the tightest series I ever coached,” he said. “They would punch us. We would punch them. Finally, we threw the last punch.
“Our team is unbelievable. They love each other. They trust what we do.”
Starley started Cooper Wilburn in Game 3 in a rare playoff mound appearance for the third baseman. He pitched into the seventh walking just one, giving up seven hits and fanning two..
“Phenomenal efforts,” said Starley about the pitching.
John Milledge won with its team approach: putting the baseball in play, bunting, hitting behind runners and making clutch plays on defense.
“They believe in it,” said Starley. “Until you show us you can field (a bunt), we are going to keep doing it. Small ball is always good.
“It’s a numb experience right now (being champions). Just so proud of my guys. It’s something that can never be taken away. They will be champions the rest of their lives.”
Hit batters are also a part of small ball, and that’s how John Milledge jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning of Game 3. With Briggs Eady on base on the HB with two outs, Jackson Thomas went big with a triple to right field. Obstruction was called on the Patriot third baseman, and the umpire pointed Thomas to the plate (and here came a Pinewood argument).
But Wilburn hit a batter in the bottom of the first. Did Pinewood Christian return the favor? No. Caleb Haines and Blake Bellflower turned a double play.
The Patriots tied the game 2-2 in the second inning on two doubles and leadoff walk.
It stayed that way through a Patriot double play and pickoff (slightly argued) until the fifth when John Milledge struck for its biggest rally of the weekend.
The baseball didn’t travel far with Prior’s flare single to lead it off and Wilburn’s bunt the Pats couldn’t field. Veal was hit by a pitch (confirmed via conference), and with one out Briggs Eady’s inside-out swing drove in two runs.
Thomas put down a squeeze bunt upping the lead to 5-2.
Pinewood Christian got one run back on a sixth-inning error and then scored two on three hits in the seventh. The tying run scored with two outs.
It was Thomas and Bellflower who singled consecutively to start the top of the eight, and Banks Eady received a free base too ahead of the Rollins HB on an 0-2 count.

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