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One more title to play for

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Galax survived Rappahannock in 11 innings for a chance at yet another state championship.

By Craig Worrell, Sports Editor

RADFORD –– Nearly every member of Galax’s baseball team has multiple state championship rings from other sports. Some own as many as five. None would be as improbable as this.

A two-out RBI single by Bryant Cox in the bottom of the 11th inning extended by one more day what has been a magical year for Galax athletics and propelled the Maroon Tide into yet another state championship game as the Tide pulled off a grueling 4-3 win over Rappahannock in the Group A Division 1 semifinals Friday at Radford University.

Galax has won the last two Division 1 state basketball championships, owns three of the last four single-A state golf titles and played in December for the state football crown. After starting the season 1-6 and bowing out of its district tournament in the semifinals, the Tide is making the most of its first state baseball tournament appearance since the 1971 team lost in the Group AA finals to Turner Ashby.

Galax went after its third win in as many days when it faced Holston for the state championship Saturday at the Dedmon Center grounds. The Tide pounded the Cavaliers 10-2 to win the Region C title last week.

“These kids will not quit, they will not accept losing and I can’t say enough about them,” said Galax coach Ronald Mankins. “It’s one of those games where you hate to see anybody lose because both teams are pouring their heart and soul out on the field.”

Scoring in the bottom of the seventh to keep its season alive, Galax left the potential winning run stranded at third in both the eighth and ninth innings. The Tide (14-9) loaded the bases in the eighth with one out before Raiders reliever Flannery Collins wriggled off the hook.

“This is about as good as it’s going to get,” a gracious Rappahannock coach Larry Baker said. “We were dead a couple of times, but we were living on the edge all day. We kept finding a way to get out of the inning. Their second baseman made a couple of huge plays, and they were critical. We scattered a lot of hits, but we never could put anything together.”

Two walks and a hit batsman filled the paths once again in the 11th before Cox, a sophomore DH, smacked a clean single through the hole into left to plate Travis Cockerham with the winning run.

“We had a couple of chances where we could have ended it earlier but it didn’t seem like it was meant to be,” Mankins said.

Rappahannock, the 2010 Group A state champ, surged into a 3-2 lead with a two-run rally in the top of the seventh, tying the game at 2-2 on Jacob Roberts’ sacrifice fly and taking the lead on Will Hoover’s double to the rightfield corner.

Held to three hits through six innings by Rappahannock freshman Eamon Collins, Galax got a leadoff single from Eddie Hanks to start the home seventh. Travis Cockerham’s hit-and-run single moved Hanks to third, where he scored on a sacrifice fly by Justin Ayers.

Ayers had produced the game’s initial run when he singled home Dante Ravenell in the bottom of the first, but Rappahannock answered with Eamon Collins’ RBI single in the third. Ravenell scored again in the fifth when Cockerham’s grounder to short resulted in a wide throw to the plate. Galax squandered chance after chance in extra innings and would leave 16 runners stranded on the day.

Austin Pack was the winning pitcher, relieving Jon Alouf in the sixth. After losing the lead in the seventh, Pack tossed four scoreless innings, taking advantage of two stellar plays by Cockerham at second, a neat 6-4-3 double play in the 10th and a diving snag by leftfielder Trevor Quesenberry to start the 11th.