By Zach Shugan
ROSWELL, Ga. — Mission accomplished.
Long before the start of the 2021 season, the Fellowship Christian baseball team set its sights on making history and bringing home the first region title in program history.
As of a few minutes past 6:00 p.m. on Apr. 13, the Paladins can officially cross that goal off their list.
Fellowship outlasted the region’s second-place team Mount Pisgah, 1-0, on Tuesday at Winchester Field, clinching the region title and a one-seed in the upcoming state playoffs.
“I thought we had a shot at it last year, but obviously COVID cancelled that,” Fellowship head coach Shawn Oliver said. “Once we knew the season last year was banged, our goal was to win a region championship. I thought this group was capable, and they came out here and showed it.”
Bringing home the Region 6-A Private championship required a gutsy win streak from Fellowship (15-4, 8-2), which found itself in a hole after dropping two of its first three region games. The Paladins won their last seven region games of the season, including sweeps of St. Francis, Lakeview and Mount Pisgah, to come from behind and snatch the crown.
Oliver credited Tuesday’s win to Fellowship junior Grant Hudson for out-dueling Mount Pisgah junior Benjy Tucker in a tightly-contested pitchers battle. The 6-foot-4 right hander Hudson, who Oliver said missed over a month at the start of the season due to quarantine and then appendicitis, earned the start in the de-facto region championship game and tossed a complete game, three-hit shutout. He needed only 73 pitches to register the 21 outs needed for the win.
“Grant [Hudson] has battled through a lot this year…,” Oliver said. “He had a lot of first-pitch strikes and was pitching ahead. He did a phenomenal job. He’s really the reason we won the baseball game today.”
Hudson (7.0 IP, 0 R, 6 K) and Tucker (6.0 IP, 1 R, 0 ER, 7 K) showed early signs of a pitching duel, as both pitcher went three up three down in the first inning. Fellowship (2) and Mount Pisgah (3) ended up combining for five hits on the night.
The Paladins broke through and scored the game’s lone run in the bottom of the sixth inning, as Jack Rickheim drove in Carson Phillips with a ground ball to shortstop.
“Benjy [Tucker] pitched his tail off today,” Oliver said. “We were fortunate enough to scratch one across and win a baseball game.”
Following the game’s final out, the Paladins enjoyed a celebration featuring a dog pile, a Gatorade cooler and a prayer. And of course, Oliver spoke to the team. And like he’s told them many times this season, “The job’s not done.”
When the Class A Private state tournament begins Apr. 29, the Paladins will be a one-seed hosting a four-seed in the first round.
“We just made our route a little easier. We still have some heavy hitters on our side, and nothing is solidified yet. But we made our lives easier today. They’re battle-tested and ready to grind. Once you get in the playoffs, anybody can beat you. It’s not like football where generally speaking the more talented team is going to come out on top. In baseball, if a dude’s on it’s going to be a fighting day.”
As for the Patriots (8-11, 5-3), they’ll wrap up region play with a two-game series against Lakeview Academy, the last-place team in the region. The Patriots have already secured their position in the state playoffs, but which seed they earn will depend on how they perform next week against the Lions.