Cougars playing for championship
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
The finish line is in sight for the Lafayette Christian School Cougars, but there’s plenty of work left to do.
Lafayette Christian has reached the championship round of the GAPPS Division I-AA state baseball playoffs, and its opponent in the title series will be Columbus-based Calvary Christian, which will be the host team.
They’ll play a doubleheader on Friday starting at 1:30 p.m., and if needed, a third and deciding game would be Saturday at noon.
It’s an opportunity for the Cougars to win a second straight state title.
Lafayette Christian won the championship in 2019, and the 2020 state tournament was canceled because of COVID-19.
With what happened last year in mind with the season being cut short, Lafayette Christian head coach Ben Jackson said everyone has been focused on making the most of every day this spring.
“They’ve been through a lot the past year,” Jackson said. “We were telling them at the first of the year, we don’t know if the season’s going to last a week, a month, two games, five games. We had no idea. We challenged them to give their best every single game, because you don’t know when they may pull the plug and say we’re done.”
Fortunately for the Cavaliers, there haven’t been any interruptions during what has been a fantastic season. Lafayette Christian (24-5) followed up an exceptional regular season by sweeping Covenant Academy and Kings Academy in the first two rounds of the state playoffs.
In the opening round, Lafayette Christian beat Covenant 1-0 and 12-4, and it got past Kings Academy 4-3 and 5-3 in two hard-fought games in the second round.
While the Cougars had one blowout win in the playoffs, there other three games were all close.
“I was so glad we had competitive games,” Jackson said. “Sometimes you’ll see it, even in GHSA, you have these blowout wins and they don’t help you prepare. To have two series that were tough like we did, that did our kids a lot of good.”
A strength of the team is the close-knit nature of the players, many of whom have been sharing a baseball field long before they became teammates at Lafayette Christian.
“A lot of these boys have been playing together since they were five and six-years-old, so they really get along well,” Jackson said. “Even the kids that we haven’t had that long really gel with this group of kids. That’s what makes it so much fun. The kids like each other, and they get along so well. There’s no drama.”
Throughout the playoff run, the Cougars have exceled on the pitcher’s mound.
In the 1-0 win over Covenant, Brock Tumlin was brilliant, throwing a complete-game two-hitter while striking out eight batters. In the series-clinching 12-4 win over Covenant, Adam Barnett, Jacob Karvelas and Tanner Jackson combined to throw a seven-hitter.
Tumlin got the start for the first game of the Kings Academy series, and he pitched five solid innings, and Karvelas threw the final two innings.
In the series finale, it was Barnett and Jackson teaming up to hold Kings Academy to seven hits.
The Cougars have gotten it done offensively throughout the playoffs as well.
The lineup has stayed consistent throughout the playoffs, with Jacob Karvelas holding down the leadoff position followed by Adam Barnett, Cason Firth, Nathan Karvelas, Landon Bush, Brock Tumlin, Tanner Jackson, Braden Firth and Paul Batastini.
Lafayette Christian’s opponent in the championship series, Calvary Christian, has also had a banner season. Calvary Christian (28-5) has won 16 straight games, and it has beaten Skipstone Academy and Peachtree Academy in the state playoffs.
While Lafayette Christian has had some tough games in the playoffs, it’s been easy going for Calvary Christian, which has won its four state games by a combined score of 60-1.
In preparation for that challenge, the players have been getting after it in practice, but they got a chance to relax and let their hair down on Thursday afternoon, the day before the championship series.
“We usually run a really strict practice, not hard-core, but we really keep it straight-laced, go by the book, wear our uniforms,” Jackson said. “But today, we let them wear shorts, we let the senior dads warm up with their sons on the field, and just tried to relax and say, hey, you take it serious, but at the end of the day it’s baseball. The whole idea is to enjoy it, and enjoy the game. That was one of my coach’s ideas, and I said that’s brilliant, let’s do it.”