Preparation for title began in middle school
Friendship Christian's nine baseball seniors ended their high school careers where every prep athlete wants to play his/her final game - in a state final.
Most of the nine have been with coach John McNeal for four high school seasons. Jason Miller has seen them up close and personal a bit longer.
Miller was the middle school coach when this group came through. Run-ruling opponents with regularity didn't begin with its District 8-A rivals, but in a Nashville-based league which played most of its games in a place called Pitts Park.
"It was a special group," Miller said the other day while the Commanders were in the process of run-ruling Grace Christian in the Riverdale bracket final. "We were trying to prepare them for this day back then.
"They were special then. You see it today batting 1 through 9. You got guys like [Brennan] Swindoll and [Cale] Mitchell hitting 8 and 9, what a luxury to have going into a tournament like this. The pitching depth was there then. [Stefan] Remus [now one of McNeal's main pitchers who last week signed with Chattanooga State] hardly even had to pitch in junior high because we didn't play as many games. He was capable then."
Those Commanders compiled a two-year record of 44-2 while rarely playing a home game, or contests against other Wilson County schools.
"We didn't have the lights back then," said Miller, who has announced many of his former players' high school games as the public address announcer. "We played maybe 4-5 home games a year, made a lot of trips into Nashville and played everybody there. We played the Beech-feeders, we played Nashville schools. We played anybody who would step on the field with us.
"I heard [Austin] Godwin mention [Wednesday] they had played baseball all their lives, why be nervous in a moment like this? Every game they ever played prepared them for this moment."
Taking the scores from Miller back then often made me wonder if the Commanders were really getting a lot of competition, not unlike the situation the high school team has been in for years, even before this group got there.
"The teams weren't all in the same situation that we were where we could run out seemingly an ace pitcher every night," said Miller, echoing McNeal's sentiments about the deep staff he now has. "We faced some of Nashville's best pitchers in junior high, and they got used to competition like that."
Eight of the nine - Snider, Mitchell, Swindoll, Remus, Godwin, Gunner Osborne and Jameson Sorrels [Hunter Watts transferred from Gordonsville midway through his junior year] have reached the state tournament all four years, extending the program's run to seven before the school transitions into Division II next year.
"I'd just love to see this group of seniors finish the job," Miller said.
He, and Commander Nation, got that wish less than 24 hours later.