Down to its last at-bat in the Class AAAA baseball semifinals, Marist staved off elimination with an eight-inning victory against Loganville. After that the War Eagles returned to their dominating ways that led to easy sweeps in the first three rounds of the state tournament.
Marist won its 12th state baseball title, more than any other school in the state, with an 11-5, 8-1 sweep of Whitewater on May 27 in the best-of-three championship series. The wins gave Marist back-to-back state titles for the third time in school history and the first since 2002-03.
“This is a special group,” Marist coach Mike Strickland said of his team that includes 15 seniors. “I don’t really have words to say what they mean to me. God has really blessed me with this group and they know what the Marist program is about.”
In the past 34 seasons, Marist has played in 18 state baseball finals with 11 championships. Marist finished the season 34-3, marking the third straight year with at least 29 wins.
Marist found itself trailing for most of the opening game against Whitewater. Down 5-2, Marist responded with eight runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to snatch the momentum away from the Wildcats.
Brandon Liebrandt shut down Whitewater in Game 2, striking out 10 batters and allowing only six hits through six innings. David Bourbonnais retired the side in order in the seventh inning for Marist to clinch the series.
“One thing I can say about this group is that they know how to answer,” Strickland said about the eight-run outburst. “In Game 3 against Loganville (a 13-6 Marist win) we went up, they went up, then we went ahead for good. I think since the eighth inning of the second game against Loganvillle we really played our kind of baseball.”
That means solid pitching and plenty of offense. Blake Stevens pitched his way out of a 2-0 deficit and went the distance to earn the win in Game 1 of the championship series. Despite allowing two home runs, only two of Whitewater’s five runs were earned.
Liebrandt’s effort in Game 2 helped him close out his senior season with a 12-0 record.
“It’s a great feeling to go back-to-back,” said Liebrandt, who has signed a scholarship with Florida State. “This is a great group of guys. We didn’t have one specific leader but we battled all year and came up with the big plays when we needed them.”
Strickland praised both his pitchers after the win. The pair gave Marist its fourth sweep in five series in the playoffs. Marist won the first three rounds by a combined score of 54-4 and allowed 17 runs against Loganville in three games.
“I know what kind of competitor Blake is and what kind of heart he’s got,” Strickland said. “And Brandon understands so well about what his strengths are. He’s really grown up so much this year.”
Kevin Gale led the way offensively in the finals. The senior went 4-for-6 in the series with two home runs and five RBIs. He was 3-for-3 in Game 2 with a three-run homer in the fifth inning that put the game out of reach.
Georges Durot also hit a home run, a grand slam in Game 2 that put the War Eagles ahead 5-0 in the second inning. The War Eagles pounded out 21 hits in two games. Chesny Young and Stevens each contributed three hits and three RBIs.
“Having 15 seniors was a huge part of why we were able to finish games out like we have,” Gale said. “If someone couldn’t step up, then someone else would. It was like that all year.”