COVINGTON, Ga. — Peachtree Academy baseball left no doubt about who was the best team in the Georgia Independent Christian Athletic Association.
The Panthers routed Westminster Christian 7-4 and 10-2 in a two game sweep in the best-two-of-three finals series to claim the school’s first state baseball championship Friday night at Georgia Perimeter College’s home field where Peachtree plays its home games.
The Panthers’ last hurdle seemed to be its toughest, at least on paper. Westminster featured Georgia baseball commit CJ Smith — a two-way star who looks to add immediate depth to the Bulldogs’ roster next season.
But Peachtree Academy overcame Smith’s work both on the mound and at the plate, and countered with a pitching dynamo of their own in senior Jordan Jett.
Jett pitched a combined 110 pitches in both games, and even made several big defensive plays from the vicinity of the pitching mound. One such play came in the bottom of the fifth inning — one inning removed from being belted by a hard hit ball by CJ Smith that ricocheted off Jett’s right ankle.
It was in the bottom of the fifth inning in the deciding game when Jett ran from the mound to field a short-hopped ball and throw it to first for an out. At that point, Peachtree already had a commanding 6-1 lead. Yet, Jett still felt the need to put his body on the line for his team.
Earlier in game two, in the bottom of the first inning, Jett bounced back from giving up a triple to Smith by executing a diving snag at the mound which he turned into the third out, getting Peachtree out of a mini-jam while holding an early 4-0 lead.
Such plays were the kind that deflated every small bit of momentum conjured up by Westminster, while fueling the Panthers. It was the kind of stuff Peachtree Academy coach Skip Argo has come to expect from Jett all year.
“Jordan is our emotion,” Argo said. “He’s our excitement guy. He’s the dugout guy. The clubhouse guy. He’ll put people on his shoulders. He’s a warrior. He gives everything out there.”
That, perhaps, explains why Jett — after being belted by the CJ Smith hit — walked off the pain, but didn’t dare think about missing any part of the game.
“That ball hit me right in the shin,” Jett said. “I’ve got a big ol’ welt on it. But hey, this is the biggest game of my season, of my life. It’s the last game of my high school career. I’m looking forward to going to college, but I had to do this for my teammates today. Since the first day of practice, we were saying we had no doubt we would win this here.”
Indeed it was a game that was never in doubt from the beginning. Peachtree used RBI hits by Walker and Garrett Payton to jump out to an early 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Then Jett drove in a run on a single and Hunter Payne came touched home plate from third base on a wild pitch to produce that 4-0 first inning lead.
From there, it was solid defense that prevailed through much of the night. It wasn’t until the bottom of the fourth when Westminster got on the scoreboard. It happened when Eli Smith belted a single that plated CJ Smith to make it 4-1, Peachtree.
The offensive floodgates would open again, however, in the top of the fifth when Garrett Payton’s double and Jett’s triple, thanks to an errant throw, was the perfect set up for Garrett Payton to trot home for a 5-1 advantage. The onslaught continued with the next hitter. Charlie Myers drove a hard single right up the middle on a full count that scored Hunter Payne for a 6-1 lead.
In the top of the sixth, Walker Payton hit a sac fly to score a run and Garrett Payton’s RBI single followed. Jett smashed a two-run double, giving Peachtree a 10-1 lead going into the bottom of the sixth. Westminster would add a garbage time run to provide the final score of game two. But once the last out was secured, it touched off a dog pile celebration right in front of second base.
“It feels so good,” Argo said. “They worked at it. They worked hard and they’ve been doing this for months and months and months. But they’ve kept a professional approach all year. They don’t get flustered. They’re relentless. They just go and take care of business.”
Peachtree finished the season with an impressive 21-3 mark and a perfect 6-0 region record. After a February 24 loss to May Ridge which gave them a 1-3 start, the Panthers never lost again, including in the state tournament where they achieved sweeps of each team they faced.
It corroborates Argo’s earlier suspicions about how special this bunch could be, despite a slow 1-3 start.
“I remember sitting down with my wife at the dinner table one day and telling her that I believe this is a team that could win a state championship,” Argo said. “We started slow, though. But that was just because I wasn’t prepared. I just really didn’t have them ready to go.”
Argo says the season’s turning point came toward the end of February when his bunch went up to Hilton Head Prep (South Carolina) and won 8-3 just a couple of days removed from getting shellacked by Social Circle and Griffin Christian by a combined score of 25-9.
“When they came back from Hilton head, they never looked back,” he said. “I just really didn’t have them ready to go at the beginning, but we knew we had the talent to do this and go all the way.”
For Jett, he’s glad to be able to go out on top at a program he’s given a lot to through most of his high school career.
“You know, it feels good to have this since I’ve been with the program since my freshman year,” he said. “I took my sophomore year off. Then I was here for my junior and senior year. There’s no better way for us to go out than on top.”
Argo said he hopes the success from his team’s title — coupled with the boys and girls tennis teams capturing state two weeks ago — can be the beginning of some sustained momentum for the school’s entire athletic program.
“This is definitely the best I’ve had here,” Argo said. “I had two state championship teams at Covenant before I came here. But this is by far the best we’ve had. And it’s big for our school, because it shows we’re learning to compete. Our student body, faculty and staff — they need to see that all this time and sacrifice these athletes put in…that there’s a reward for that. It’s fun walking into a Waffle House and someone sees the (Peachtree Academy) hat on, and they say they saw the article in the paper and say, ‘Hey, good game.’
“I’ve seen that happen more than once. It’s the feeling of the town supporting you, and that’s awesome. It let’s us know that it’s possible for us to get over the hump.”