FAYETTEVILLE — Genoa Central coach Jonathan Gosdin said his baseball team has a sign in its locker room that reads, “Two-out hits win championships.”
The Dragons took the message to heart on Saturday.
Genoa Central scored each of its runs with two down and Dillon Drabble won a pitchers’ duel as the Dragons defeated Fordyce, 3-0, in the 3A state championship game at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
A few timely hits by Genoa Central (30-2) was all that kept Fordyce senior Braden Chambers from matching the senior Drabble pitch-for-pitch.
“It was great pitching from both sides,” Gosdin said. “We just won a couple of the innings, and that’s what you have to do. We got some two-out hits and made some good plays on defense to get out of some tight spots.
“But Dillion and that Chambers kid, man, those guys stepped up.”
Both pitchers allowed six hits on the day, but Genoa Central got the clutch hits where Fordyce couldn’t as the Dragons earned a second state title in three years.
The Redbugs (20-7) had its first two batters reach to start the game as Tommy Tidwell singled and Ross Rogers coaxed a walk. In a sign of things to come, Chambers flew out before Drabble struck out Jakeymes Gates and Dane Kemp to escape danger.
Fordyce had a chance to make up for it in the third inning as Tidwell (single), Rogers (single) and Chambers (walk) reached to load the bases with nobody out.
Drabble, though, once again buckled down, striking out Gates, Kemp and Jordan Manes to strand the runners.
“All year, it’s the same thing we’ve struggled with that hurt us (Saturday),” Redbugs coach Tim Rodgers. “We couldn’t hit when we had opportunities.
“The third inning we had bases loaded and they struck out all three. In the first inning, we got two guys on and wasted a couple chances.”
The Dragons took advantage of the momentum the Redbugs’ missed opportunities gave them, scoring in the bottom half of the same innings.
In the first, Cale Ridling drove in Cole Beckham with a single to right field after Beckham had smoked a two-out double.
After Drabble’s back-to-back-to-back Ks in the third, Hunter Fletcher led off the bottom half with a single. With two outs and Fletcher on third, Beckham singled and Ridling doubled to give Genoa Central a 3-0 lead.
“We talk about it all the time,” Gosdin said. “After we get a shutdown inning like that, we talking about coming back with the bats.
“That’s what good teams do.”
Chambers settled down after Ridling’s double, striking out six and not allowing a hit over the final 3 1/3 innings.
Drabble was equal to the task.
He hit a batter and allowed two hits over the final four innings, but the MVP of the 3A state tournament never allowed the tying run to come to the plate.
“That’s just two seniors pitching their butts off,” Gosdin said. “Both guys were on their game (Saturday).
“It’s a shame one team had to lose.”
The result soured the impressive games by Chambers and Tidwell, who finished 3 for 3 with a HBP.
“Those two guys really carried us through the state tournament,” Rodgers said. “Braden pitched a great ballgame (Saturday) and he had that no-hitter against Mayflower. …
“Tommy was 3 for 3 (Saturday), he had that big home run in the first round and had a big hit in the Danville game.”
Saturday’s loss makes it two years in a row Fordyce has fallen in the state championship game — the only two title game appearances in program history.
Rodgers thinks his team, which will lose just one senior and was led by sophomores, has what it takes to get back to the state final next season, too.
“As freshmen, these guys turned the page for us,” he said. “They helped get us here last year, and they got us here this year.
“Hopefully, they can get us back here next year.”