Defense and family ties lead Marist to state

No. 1 Marist School swept No. 2 Benedictine Military School in Georgia High School Association’s 4A baseball state championship May 19.

The Marist War Eagles, led by head coach Mike Strickland, finished the season with a 33-9 record and swept the state championship with a 5-0 win in game one and a 2-1 walk-off win in game two.

The state title win marked the 14th baseball state championship in program history and Marist’s 21st state title appearance. Strickland attributed 2021’s title run to everything from generational success to Marist’s football state championship and the work he and his team put into the season.

Strickland said Andrew Mannelly, Grey Taylor, Andrew Williams and Thomas Rollauer—all of whom played key roles in getting Marist to the championship game and winning the title—have family members who won state championships or played for Marist in the past.

“Those guys see their older brothers and what they poured into the program. Whether it ends in a dogpile or not, they see the relationships they built and how much they put in. I think that they feel very confident in knowing that the sacrifices, the work and the effort—regardless of the outcome—are going to be worthwhile,” said Strickland.

According to Strickland, being a Marist baseball legacy doesn’t make a player great, but it gives them an understanding of what it takes to be great.

“I think they come in with their eyes a little more open to high school baseball being a different experience than what they’ve had before,” Strickland added. “I think that it instills in them that this is going to be tough, but it’s going to be worth it.”

Strickland said another advantage Marist had was welcoming baseball players back to the team who had just won a state championship with football.

“Those football guys—especially the football seniors—the day after they wrapped up their football state championship, I sent then a text and told them that they now know what it feels like and that they know how to do it, ‘You guys can go and get another one but it’s going to be much different than what this football experience was,’” Strickland said.

“Our baseball team wasn’t as senior heavy as football was, but that senior leadership was at the core of what we became.”

Several of the baseball legacies and football seniors stepped up big in the final moments of Marist’s season to help clinch the state title series sweep.

In game two of the state championship series, Carter Holten—Benedictine’s ace and one of the most decorated pitchers in GHSA history—took the mound. After Holten forced a scoreless top half of the first inning, Benedictine short stop Kameron Edge scored by stealing home on a dropped pitch to give the Cadets a 1-0 lead.

Marist’s Tyler Hare responded with an RBI in the top of the fourth inning, but it was all defense other than the two early runs. Ryan McTighe threw the first six innings for Marist and gave up just one run and two hits.

In the seventh inning, Davis hit a pop fly between first and second base, and a normally routine catch was dropped by Benedictine.

Davis got on base, and then Mannelly had a good at bat but went down swinging.

Marist’s next batter was another baseball legacy. Taylor—with two outs and bases loaded—hit a shot into right field for a walk-off RBI, ending the state championship series with a 2-1 game two.

Strickland said it was his pitching and defense that gave him confidence about winning the series in one night.

“Once Ryan McTighe settled down in the first, after we gave up that early run, I really felt good about where we were. We were down one to nothing, but I knew if our dude kept throwing up zeros and we kept putting up at bats like this, that we’d have a chance to have a moment,” Strickland said.

Strickland said the family connections and overall success in sports at Marist helps, but that the War Eagles take pride in what they do on the field, and that their preparation starts on defense.

“Our ability to throw strikes and our ability to defend, we try and hang our hat on that. Our team had a high level of confidence in every guy we’d put on the mound. Preston Larmore, Ty Siksta, Thomas Rollauer, Isaac Coronado, Andrew Williams. Our guys just had a lot of belief and confidence in one another to give you that level of comfort where you can relax and play.”

Not only did the win mark Marist’s 14th baseball title in program history, but it was also Marist’s ninth state championship since the 2020 fall sports season began.

“I think that being able to feel like you’re continuing to push the standard of excellence further along, being able to add another brick in the history of the program is significant,” said Strickland. “Any time you win a championship, it is special but doing it in different years with different teams is remarkable. You have to call on your tradition, but it’s like adding another ingredient that makes it better every time you do it.”

Strickland said Marist’s success in sports also carries over to other areas of the school.

“It’s fantastic when you’re having successful seasons. Go back to fall with cross country, volleyball, football and softball, and it ramps up and continues. Every new season has carryover from athletes going from one sport to the next. You get a little momentum going, and it generates confidence in your athletes,” said Strickland.

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