PULASKI — Chatham last tasted a baseball state championship 10 years and six days ago when Cavaliers coach Chad Anderson’s potent offensive squad routed Gate City for the Class A title at Radford University.
Flash forward a decade and nearly a week later, Anderson and the Cavaliers put together another special performance, this time 15 miles from Radford at Calfee Park in the Class 2 state championship game in Pulaski.
Chatham scored five runs in the top of the second and seven in the fourth on its way to a 23-5 bruising of Lebanon to win the program’s third overall title and first in a decade.
Anderson, who led the Cavaliers to the title in ’09, picked up right where he left off in his first year back with Chatham’s program.
“I had a special group in ’09, and this is a special group right here,” Anderson said. “The manager at the hotel we were staying at commented on how great a group of guys they are and how well-mannered they are. A lot of people were telling me at the beginning of the season, ‘Oh, you’re going to win a championship,’ but they don’t come quite that easy. It’s been a pretty stressful two weeks, but the guys were ready to go out and play and win today and that’s what they did. It’s a pretty special moment when it’s all said and done.”
For senior Graham Dalton, the win was a vindicating moment after Chatham’s exit in the state semis last season.
“It feels great,” Dalton said. “We were so prepared this year. Everything we thought would happen, happened, and we were prepared for every situation that came our way. Anything that happened, we were ready for it and it showed.”
Anderson and his coaching staff couldn’t blame Chatham fans for their high expectations as the Cavaliers returned nearly their whole squad from last year’s team.
Chatham ace Andrew Potojecki, who got the win on the bump in his final game, laughed when asked how the team’s camaraderie contributed to the championship. His chuckle wasn’t surprising as its a question the Longwood University signee has fielded this season.
“Like I’ve said a thousand times, we’ve been playing together since we were old enough to walk, and I wouldn’t trade a single walk, strikeout, hit, loss, or home run for these guys,” Potojecki said. “They are brothers to me and this win sums up our careers nicely since it’s the last game we’ll all play together.”
Senior Grayson Reed added, “The way we’ve come together this season is unbelievable. We’ve learned to accept each other and not get mad when a person makes an error or a mistake. We’ve really lifted each other up all season and it’s unbelievable.”
For Hunter Adkins, the Cavaliers’ state title was the summation of a moment they’ve been dreaming about since starting baseball together nearly a decade ago.
“Winning a state title is something you dream of as a little kid, and it’s a dream we’ve all shared together since we started playing ball with each other,” Adkins said. “Having that common goal of winning a title really bonded us together over the course of the season.”
Dalton added: “We’re all best friends. There aren’t any cliques or groups on this team and everybody is one. It takes a whole team to win, especially like we did today, scoring 23 runs and banging out 21 hits. That performance speaks to our chemistry.”
The Cavaliers’ 2009 title team was one known for its offensive fireworks, and this year’s Chatham team was the same. Over the course of their three-game stay in the state tournament, the Cavaliers averaged 13 runs a game. Scoring five in their victory over John Battle in the state quarters, 11 on Thursday night against Stuarts Draft in the semis before pouring on 23 in the title game.
“All year we’ve talked about hitting and we’ve had our frustrating moments,” Anderson said. “We had moments where we’d buy in and then we’d have moments where we didn’t and kind of struggled. We’d get going, then stop, so we couldn’t have picked a better time to really start turning it on.”
Anderson preached a simple offensive philosophy to his team this season, and the Cavaliers showed it had stuck Friday by recording 21 hits in the victory over the Pioneers.
“Coach [Anderson] said he didn’t change anything from the ’09 team and his philosophy for that squad and ours was ‘rip and yank,’” Luke Martin said. “He told us the home runs weren’t going to be there like they were for the ’09 team, but he told us the doubles and extra base hits were still going to be there and he was right. We didn’t hit a lot of home runs, but we crushed the ball when it really mattered.”
Chatham’s offense was potent in the top of the fourth as the Cavaliers plated seven runs to establish momentum.
Jacob Miller and Grant Reynolds each contributed two-run singles that increased the Cavs’ lead to 9-1 with only one out. Dalton made it a 10-run game when he brought home a run after being struck by a pitch, and Arnold’s third RBI of the game, a single to left, put Chatham in front 12-1. Potojecki rounded out the big frame with a run-scoring single of his own that gave the Cavaliers a 14-1 advantage heading into the final three frames.
“It definitely gave me a little cushion on the mound and helped me relax,” Potojecki said about the big frame. “But we just kept tacking them on because anything happen as [Thursday] night showed us where we went up, they came back, pushed in front and then we took the lead. We try to keep the runs coming and get that cushion because you don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
Chatham also struck for five runs in the second to break open a 1-all game.
Reed pushed the Cavaliers back in front after he was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, and Arnold followed with a two-run single to left that made it a 4-1 game. Hunter Adkins rounded out the big frame with his single to center that scored Arnold and Reed.
Arnold and Hunter Adkins each paced the Cavaliers with four RBIs, while Reed, Reynolds and Brae Adkins each drove in a trio of runs as well. Miller recorded two RBIs on the afternoon, while Potojecki and Dalton each added a run as well.
Potokecki, making his final start, showed masterful command of his curveball and fastball. He knew exactly when to feature each pitch, and his efforts led to a three-hit, eight-strikeout performance over six innings. Arnold came in and closed the game down, pitching a perfect seventh to lift Chatham to the title.