The Varsity Boys Baseball team, runners up in Region 6-AAAAA, entered post-season play with 22 wins on the season and holding a #2 seed for the 2017 State Tournament.
The Flowery Branch Falcons, the #3 seed from Region 8-AAAAA, traveled to Sandy Springs to kick off the tournament Friday afternoon, April 28 with a doubleheader at Raider Park.
The Falcons swept both games to oust the Raiders from the tournament and to end their season. Flowery Branch pitched two strong, talented starters; their ability to change speeds kept the Raiders off balance. In both games, the Raiders managed to put together a few hits but, whenever they worked a runner into scoring position, it seemed as if there were always two outs.
The Falcons took Game One 4-0. It was a frustrating shut out, with Brian Smith the only Raider to reach third base in the entire game.
In Game Two, the Raiders needed a spark and Arthur Burrell provided one. His third inning home run over the left field fence was just what the team (and fans) needed. The Falcons immediately answered with a homer of their own, plus an additional run, to grab a 2-1 lead.
Still trailing 2-1 in the fifth, the Raiders mounted their final charge of the season. Harris Beckley led off with a double to left. Griffin Brown, who came on to run for Beckley, advanced to third on a perfect sac bunt by Connor Sewell. Unfortunately, Brown was cut down at the plate on a Burrell grounder to third. Batting with two out, Brandon Moore's hard grounder to second was mishandled which put the team's two fastest runners, Burrell and Moore, on base. With two on base, two outs, and two strikes, third baseman Joseph Tobia drilled a shot into center field and put the Raiders back in front on the ensuing error when Burrell slid home and Moore followed him across the plate. When the play ended, Tobia was standing at third and the Raiders were ahead 3-2.
One run was not enough on this bad luck day as the Falcons answered with three runs during their at bat. They capitalized on a walk, a hit batsman, an error, and a single to go back up 5-3. The Raiders could not pull out another rally and fell to the Falcons 5-3.
In my mind, I saw this going much differently, and I really did not expect to be writing a season-end summary. But that's what this is and if you have not figured it out yet, these summaries are written by a baseball parent and this particular summary is for the Raider baseball family.
The moment the season ends stings terribly. But I will remember this season for some things I expect to talk about with the Raider family for some years:
- The new Raider Park – especially after playing 100% road games last year.
- Mike Santoro's return to the diamond – alas, it was all too brief.
- Desmond Atwell's return to Riverwood and, after serving as a coaching uncle to hundreds, he will soon be a first-time dad.
- Greg Brown's meticulous grooming of the pitching mound. Sacred ground.
- The starting pitching rotation's steady work ethic that saw our starters go deep in every game and gave our bats time to heat up.
- The Legacy Night Double Header. I think that was the most joyful Riverwood event ever.
- Our graduating seniors with whom my sons have played, studied, traveled, grieved, and celebrated. Oh, and all the amazing families!
- Coleman Flom's everyday excellence. I don't recall that he gave up more than a single run or more than a couple of hits in a game through 2/3 of the season. And for the few that did reach base, how many were shaking their heads after Coleman picked them off with his startling move to first?
- Mikey O'Connell's 16 strikeout game versus Carver. This was a comeback year for Mikey who has battled injury and stiffness for a couple of seasons. To see him return with a fluid motion and speed on his fastball...well, my delight of the year was to see Mikey better than ever. I overhead one Carver batter on his return to the dugout sum up Mikey with two words. "He good!"
- Ben Miller's poise in relief. Ben was the sure hand who took the ball late in games all season. And who can doubt his toughness? I still cringe at the memory of the line drive off his chest at Decatur...but of course he was pitching the following Saturday.
- Joseph Tobia's bat was a weapon all season, but my favorite memory is of the scalding grounder he picked off the bag at third, turned a 360, and gunned the runner out at first.
- Arthur Burrell's fist-pumping, heart-thumping fire is his gift. We all watched as he recovered from a slow start to start crashing fences. "Scoot" is in the school record books for hitting the first home run at the new Raider Park.
- Erick Castro's daily competence, leadership, and cool behind the plate. I loved his game at Westminster, where his second inning double in the gap tied the game and set a tone for the early season.
- Dawson Vainer's offensive streak this year was supernatural. For a dozen straight games, I don't think Dawson ever missed a pitch...everything was squared perfectly and traveled 275 feet on a string.
- There were so many Brandon Moore moments, but for the rest of my life I'll picture Brandon running flat out, rounding second, and diving into third. His breath-taking speed, coupled with his determination, is a beautiful combination. Every team who scouted the Raiders worried about how to keep Brandon off the bases…and they all failed in the attempt.
- John Beckley's fierce swing is in my head. My favorite memory is of the 7th inning of the second Decatur game, when John's huge double lit up the team and set up his brother, Harris' walk-off hit three batters later. It was the Beckley brothers' inning and game.
- And while I am recalling brother memories, I am proud of Bobby and Patrick Hope's hitting. My favorite memory is the game when they both bombed triples to right center and shared some of the same limelight. These twins are different in so many ways…long and lanky vs compact; lefty vs righty. Despite the differences, no two kids have ever played and loved baseball together more.
I also see the potential of future Raider clubs. Jordan McCord grew stronger and pitched with control all season. Connor Sewell settled in at short. Brian Smith has a wicked stick. Brett Thomas is the kind of player you build a team around (is he really just a sophomore?). Peter Duncan's grace and speed in the outfield and his fluid athletic swing are fun to watch. Allen Grier is able to play anywhere; a good pitcher with a powerful swing and speed. Keino Robinson learned to play the middle infield and showed a fluid swing. Chase Engelhard's season was cut short just as he was getting comfortable; he obviously carries all the tools. Harris Beckley was awesome playing out of position this season; imagine his potential. Christopher Bauguss batted nearly .300 this year and played an important supporting role on a team packed with upperclassmen. Griffin Brown has evolved into a nearly un-hittable closer. Not to be forgotten are each of the players and families such as Josh Peljovich and Matt Lerner who joined the Varsity at the end of the year.
So that's where it ends. The banquet is the only event remaining for the season and, of course, the memories. I like the Carver players' assessment and I'll borrow from it: The Raiders..."They good!"
Many thanks to parent volunteer Mel Hope for his dedication to providing game summaries throughout the 2017 Varsity Baseball season. The Riverwood Athletic Association appreciates his faithful reporting and his tremendous contributions to the website.