MONTGOMERY –Call them the Big Reb Machine.
G.W. Long hit on all cylinders in the Class 2A baseball championship series and completed a two-game sweep with a 7-0 victory over Westbrook Christian on Thursday at Riverwalk Stadium.
The Rebels (34-6) captured their third consecutive state championship – and their 16 th in the past 30 years. The school’s first baseball crown came in 1989.
Series MVP Matt Snell pitched a six-hit shutout and finished with 12 strikeouts and no walks. The senior, a Troy signee, didn’t have his best stuff, either.
“My shoulder was a little tender,” Snell said. “The first inning, I knew my velocity wasn’t there. My stuff wasn’t there, but I still had to throw strikes and work in the zone and let my defense work behind me.”
After spending much of the season simply blowing the ball past hitters, Plan B was pretty impressive.
“His curveball and his off-speed stuff was real effective when he couldn’t get his fastball over,” Rebels catcher Slade Simmons said. “His arm wasn’t feeling real great today so he used his secondary stuff to get ahead of batters.”
G.W. Long head coach Drew Miller said his senior ace locates his pitches and competes in the strike zone.
“As a young pitcher that hurt him sometimes because his (velocity) wasn’t where it is now, so he would get hit some,” Miller said. “He didn’t have a ton of strikeouts as a young player.
“But we’ve seen a different jump in him. Added velo and throwing two and three secondary pitches for a strike, that’s what – when you don’t have your best – helps you cross the line and do something special like he did today.”
Snell also went 4-for-4 at the plate Thursday and finished 7-for-9 with four RBIs for the series.
Long scored in every inning but the fifth. Snell singled with two outs in the first. Courtesy runner Nathan Walker scored on Simmons’ double. In the second inning, Parker Collier drew a two-out walk, stole second and scored on Carson Dunlap’s base hit for a 2-0 lead.
The Rebels opened some breathing room in the third off Westbrook Christian ace Samuel Dutton. Snell singled and runner Walker went from first to third on Simmons’ base hit to right. Harrison Gray, who had two hits, drew a walk that loaded the bases with nobody out.
A ground ball produced a force out at the plate for an out. Jake Steed drove in a row with an infield single that shortstop Fisher Glasgow stopped with a diving lunge. Collier followed with a two-run single to center. Dutton escaped further damage, but the Rebels led 5-0 after three innings.
Dutton, who was taken out in the fourth after Snell hit a line-drive homer to right, said the Rebels are a tremendous offensive team. Long scored 10 runs in the first inning of Wednesday’s Game 1.
“I knew I had to locate every pitch that I could throw,” Dutton said. “They’re a great hitting team from fastball to the curveball to whatever.”
“That’s the best team we played all season,” Warriors head coach Matt Kennedy said. “If you throw it around the plate, they don’t miss it.”
The Rebels added a run in the sixth. Snell hit a one-out bloop single. Simmons reached on a force out and advanced to second on a throwing error on the play. His courtesy runner, Blayne McDaniel, scored on Gray’s single to right.
Snell gave up a triple to Andrew Dutton in the first and a double to John Ross Morgan in the second. He retired nine in a row before Glasgow’s one-out single in the fifth. Andrew Dutton added another hit in the sixth.
Snell gave up two hits – a leadoff single to Isaac James and a two-out infield single to Cole Patterson – before a strikeout ended the game.
The dogpile that followed in the infield was expertly done. Of course, the Rebels have had practice.
“This group was a special group that had a goal in mind and stayed the course within that goal and the roller-coaster of a baseball season,” Miller said. “We had our ups and downs. We had times we had to get some things straight.
“But I think this is kind of the pinnacle of the year, when we swung the bats as well as we have all year within a 24-hour span. That was the goal. That makes this extra special.”
Senior center fielder Kam Faria said the opportunity for a three-peat was a motivator for the Rebels. Long won six in a row from 1997-2002.
“It’s been a while since we did it,” Faria said. “For us to be seniors and leave that legacy for another three in a row is great. Hopefully, we set an example for everybody else (that’s coming up).”
Miller was asked if winning ever gets old.
“Absolutely not,” the coach said. “It’s always hard. We have 16, but it’s always hard. It’s never easy. That’s why these kids are special. They don’t take advantage of this situation. It’s always hard.”