The FPCA Highlanders had the Thomas Jefferson Academy Jaguars right where they wanted them – even after dropping a 10-3 rout in a Game 2 loss.
And it’s what assistant coach Tony Harmon told his team in the minutes between Game 2 and their GIAA Class A state championship series deciding Game 3 at Edmund Burke Academy.
The Highlanders, behind Evan North’s gem, rolled to a 9-2 win and took home the state title after a long weekend full of rainouts, driving through much of east Georgia and switching stadiums.
For the Highlanders, it also meant turning the tables on the Jaguars, who had won the last four state championships and beat FPCA in the finals each time.
“Amazing,” said senior Caleb Harmon of beating TJA and winning the state title. “It feels awesome. Us being seniors and this being our last game ever played, to beat them is amazing.”
FPCA won Game 1 in convincing fashion, 11-6. But behind state player of the year Ty Cobb, who went 5 1/3 innings, the Jaguars forced Game 3.
“It was very stressful,” senior Cameron Eason said. “But after we won the first game, our energy was still up. The last four years we had never beaten them, so we were excited to beat them that first game.”
North struck out 13 batters, including the last five of the game, and he retired 20 of the final 21 batters he faced.
“Evan was that tough, tough kid who just kept us together,” said head coach Elias Macias. “He always wanted to shine in that moment. He wants to be the guy to win for it us. He has supreme confidence, and I love it. Evan is a kid with unbelievable potential.”
“He was lights out,” Coach Harmon said. “He walked a couple of guys, hit a batter. Then he went into a zone. It’s the number one performance I’ve seen out of a high school kid in a long time.”
The Highlanders offense backed him with 11 hits, including Jake Diven’s two-run homer in the fifth inning and River North’s two-run shot in the sixth.
River North went 2-for-5 and drove in three runs, and Evan North went 2-for-5 with a double. Caleb Harmon went 2-for-3 and Mason Bruning went 2-for-4.
“Our bats came alive,” Coach Harmon said. “They were smoking.”
The Highlanders finished the year at 25-10. Thomas Jefferson Academy went 21-7.
While the Highlanders could turn to Evan North in Game 3, the FPCA coaches figured the Jaguars had exhausted their best pitching.
The Jaguars led Game 2 10-0 but Harmon drove in a run in the bottom of the fifth inning and Mason Bruning plated two more to keep the game extended to its full seven innings.
Extending Cobb on the mound also meant he couldn’t pitch in Game 3.
The Jaguars took advantage of nine walks, two balks and a hit batter in getting the Game 2 win.
The Highlanders won Game 1 Thursday at SRP Park as Logan Brown went 3-for-5 and Eason, Bruning and Harmon each drove in two.
Eason and Bruning also had two hits each. The Highlanders finished with five extra-base hits, three triples and two doubles. Eason, Harmon and River North each had a triple and Brown and Bruning each had a double.
FPCA led 3-2 and broke the game open with four runs in the fourth. The Highlanders extended the lead with three more runs in the top of the fifth.
North went 5 1/3, holding TJA to four hits while striking out. He walked six and hit three batters.
Chase Streeper pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings to close out the win.
Two of the Highlanders – Diven and Caleb Harmon - had been starters as eighth graders when the Jaguars topped FPCA for the state title in 2019. Diven moved away, but moved back and volunteered to play catcher this season, a decision that bolstered the Highlanders.
“God had a plan for him to come back and be with his brothers,” Coach Macias said. “Just his role as a catcher was something. It was a storybook ending and he deserved it.”
As for the final out’s aftermath, there was no traditional dogpile of players celebrating, which perplexed the coaches.
“Goes to show we’re not experienced winners,” Macias said with a smile.