Staff Photo: John Bohn Providence Christian head coach Adam Cantrell hugs Patrick Smith after Providence defeated Charlton County in game three of the Class A state championship baseball tournament Friday in Folkston.
FOLKSTON -- After a long, steady climb of what seemed like an impossibly high mountain top, Providence Christian's baseball team finally reached the peak Friday afternoon.
An 11-1 victory in the third and deciding game of the Class A state baseball championship series marked the end of a long journey for the Stars (27-12) in many ways.
"It's going to be permanent now," said Providence head coach Adam Cantrell. "They can't take that away from us. It's a good opportunity to celebrate a good season. These juniors and seniors have been playing together a long time. It's a great way to celebrate their hard work and accomplishments."
In addition to closing out the school's athletic teams being known as the Stars -- the school announced in a release earlier Friday its teams will be known as the Storm, partially in honor of the baseball team's wait to play the series due to delays caused by Tropical Storm Beryl -- the win also made Providence the final state champion before Class A is divided between private and public schools next year.
But mainly, it represented the culmination of a five-year long struggle that finally reached its zenith after several close calls.
The Stars had made the state quarterfinals three of the previous four seasons, including a state semifinal appearance in 2008 and last year's state runner-up finish to Gwinnett-rival Hebron Christian.
"It feels so good finally getting here," senior catcher/first baseman Christin Stewart said. "Last year, we lost in the state championship (series). We didn't want to go through that again. So, we just scrapped and did what we had to do."
The title also has special meaning for both Cantrell and Stewart individually.
For Cantrell, himself a graduate of Providence Christian Academy, bringing home just the school's fifth Georgia High School Association title and the first by a boys program -- joining wins by the girls soccer teams in 1999 and 2007, the girls softball team in 2000 and the girls gymnastics team in 2009 -- is point of school pride.
"I was just fine (emotionally) until you asked me that question," an emotional Cantrell said after the game. "Yeah, it means a lot. The first state championship for a guy's team. It's the last chance (with) the Stars (nickname). I didn't like the Stars (name) much when I went to school here, but it grew on me, and I'm proud of it. And I'm proud we could win one (last) state championship with it."
For Stewart, there is the finality of going out a winner, along with fellow seniors like Tyler Brown, Patrick Smith, Josh Carter, Austin Loyd, John Bailey, Austin Smith, Steven Slaughter and Austin Golden.
But there's the extra satisfaction the title brings at the end of a four-year career that saw him finish tied with current San Diego Padre Micah Owings as Georgia's home run king with 69 round-trippers.
But even with eight walks -- including seven intentional passes -- in the series that helped keep Stewart just one homer short of Drew Henson's national record, the championship ring he will wear more than makes up for any disappointment.
"I'd rather have the ring any day," Stewart said. "Helping the team out any way I can -- it's all about the team. I love my teammates. They're the best."
And Friday, they Stars are truly Class A's best.
"It's really unreal," said Golden, who finished the championship series 4-for-7 with two homers and nine RBIs. "It hasn't really set in yet, but we worked hard all season. I'm just really happy."