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Joshua Miller/Sports Editor Sat, May 29, 2021
The Houston County Bears proved something that’s been speculated all year—it’s the best 6A baseball team in the state.

They only needed Wednesday’s doubleheader to become kings. They beat Lassiter in both outings of the GHSA 6A State Championship series to win the third state championship in program history.

They took the first game 2-1 and the second 4-0. Etching their names into the history books.

It wasn’t the dominant beatdown the Bears frequently put on opponents throughout the season. Which is unusual, being that Houston averaged three runs scored for every run given up.

But there was never a need to fear through the championship series, even when the Bears trailed 1-0 in the third inning of game one.

That one run by Lassiter came in the third inning of game one and it wasn’t an earned run—a fluke, if you will.

Bears’ pitcher Brodie Chestnutt attempted to pickoff a runner at third base, the throw awkwardly flung past third baseman Drew Burress and the runner went on home.

That was the highlight of the day for Lassiter—an error.

The Bears’ usual suspects on the mound put on a showcase in their final games. Superstar pitching duo of Chestnutt and Coleman Willis combined to allow just one run from Lassiter through both games.

Chesnutt closed the curtains in game one, finishing with five strikeouts and just four hits given up.

Willis pitched a shutout in game two, fanned seven batters and had an RBI on the way to the state title.

Game two quickly got out of hand for the Trojans as the Bears’ traditional offense came to life. It all happened in sequence.

The batting order led off with Gage Harrelson who was followed by senior Treyson Hughes, Andrew Dunford and then Willis.

After Willis’ hit, the Bears led 3-0 before recording their first out of the game

Soon after, Willis was brought home by Garrett Hortman to give them a 4-0 lead to start the game and they maintained until the end.

Houston’s program supremacy began with a pair of state titles (2014 and 2016) under former head coach Jason Brett. Now the program is evolving into a full-blown dynasty after current head coach Matt Hopkins (who’s been a part of the program for more than a decade) brought the program’s third title home.

“(You) always have to be careful with how you label things,” said Hopkins when asked if he’d agree this is the start of a dynasty. “But I say, this is our third championship in seven years and it’s so hard just to get one championship—to be almost 50-percent over that time period is pretty solid. I would put us up there. I think most of the state would agree that Houston County baseball is there, and it has to be a force to be reckoned with.”

You can’t help but wonder if this would’ve been title number four since the 2020 season was robbed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Bears would’ve had this same roster plus current University of Georgia pitcher, Jaden Woods, who recently earned SEC All-Freshman honors.

Coach Hopkins could only sum up 2020 in a couple of words, “a disappointment.”

But we can’t rewind time. If anything, all we can do is look ahead, and the returning roster is star-studded.

Let’s start with the Bears’ record holder for most hits and stolen bases in a season, the game changer himself, Gage Harrelson. By the brief resume you just read, Harrelson is a bad man. He’s currently committed to Texas Tech and a rising senior.

There’s also Drew Burress, who had a phenomenal performance at third base in game two. Burress made diving plays look routine and his throws to first looked as if he was slinging darts. His career will be exciting to watch as he’s only a sophomore.

Another sophomore stud is Andrew Dunford, who could often be mistaken for a college freshman at six-feet, seven-inches tall. Dunford can pitch and hit but has an animated charisma that makes him fun to watch.

It’s likely you’ll see Dunford mimicking Connor McGregor’s strut while crossing home plate, flexing and yelling at his dugout after a play or showing mild facial expressions after gassing a pitch for a strike; like he’s acknowledging to himself that he just threw a nasty pitch.

Dunford’s bubbly persona is paired with a passion that makes him a natural leader.

That leadership came out before game two of the Final Four, after Houston lost game one to Allatoona. It was Dunford who rallied the troops and shared an intense message to his team before breaking down the huddle on the way to the game two victory.

He’s just a fun guy to watch.

Catcher, Garrett Hortman, is another returnee who’ll be a senior next season. At the high school level, it’s crucial to have a reliable catcher who minimizes mistakes and can make the throws needed, particularly throws to second base—Hortman checks all of those boxes and can hit the ball.

“They were stalwarts in our lineup,” said Hopkins about the four returning contributors. “They’ll be back and we’re very excited about what we have, but it is going to be extremely difficult to replace 11 seniors. Especially the ones that played a big part, whether they were starting or not. They were just a strong part of our culture to help us be a really good unit.”

It seems impossible to replace Willis and Chestnutt along with the hitting and fielding from seniors Hughes, Trent Ringer, Elijah Lewis and Chris Le, who all committed to play ball at the collegiate level.

But the Bears have an exceptional group returning, and it’ll be interesting to see the newcomer(s) who’ll make their name next season.

This what happens though; good groups come and go. But that’s the thing about a dynasty—they always have a good group.

– HHJ News