Chipley Takes Down Lafayette For First State Title
The Chipley Tigers came nine outs short of a state title two years ago, and a handful of those same players made good on a second chance at glory Thursday night as manager Andy Compton and his team hoisted the FHSAA Class 1A State Championship trophy in the air following a 10-1 win over Lafayette.
Of the four returning players who experienced the heartbreak of that 2021 state final, it’s right-hander Bryson Howard (Coastal Alabama) who redeemed himself the most. Howard hurled a complete game, allowing just one earned run on five hits and a walk while striking out three.
Howard dazzled in the state semifinal game two years ago, but going the distance in the last game of the season to bring his school its first state title is the obvious peak of his prep career.
“The seniors and David (Carley) are the only group to go to states twice,” Howard said. “But to bring home a championship, dude, it just put chills down my back. I can’t even explain it.”
Howard says he’s not always as calm, cool and collected as he was Thursday night. In fact, this might have been the first game that he felt an immense amount of confidence going into. A run scored in the first, but Howard didn’t waver.
He took things to the wire, starting off the last batter he faced with his 105th pitch — the state limit for 17 and 18-year-old pitchers.
“I didn’t want to get taken out,” he said. “I knew it was like 90 and I had 15 left. Somehow, I came through it. I’m blessed to have the outfielders that I do because it’s a no-fly zone out there.”
While pitching and defense played a big role in this game, a nine-run third decided the game. All nine runs came with two outs and wouldn’t have been possible without an evasive slide into home from designated hitter Thad Brown. Lafayette’s catcher got the ball in time, but a tag to the lower half of Brown made it possible for him to slip by.
“He’s a center on the football team,” manager Andy Compton said. “We don’t practice sliding with him very much. I’m going to have to talk to him, too, because he didn’t get a great jump on a 3-2 count with two outs,” he added with a chuckle. “I’m very happy he made it.”
After Brown scored, the floodgates opened up. A line drive over the center fielder’s head cleared the bases, a run scored on a walk and the Tigers almost batted around twice (15 plate appearances in total). Compton always knew that this team was capable of winning it all, but there was a point in the year when things didn’t look so great.
“I knew we had the talent,” he said. “I knew that because of our pitching staff, we had an opportunity to be here. Now, we played a game earlier in the year against Freeport High School where we did not play well and they beat us. At that point in time, everyone had questions. We sat down and talked and came to a decision. Now we’ve won 10 in a row.”
Three Tigers finished the day with multiple hits — Neal Adams, Brown and Cade Culbreth, who finished with a team-high three runs batted in. Rayce Griffin and Parker Smelcer each drove in a pair.
The Hornets didn’t end the season on top of the classification, but getting to Fort Myers is an achievement on its own. The last time Lafayette made it to the state championship game was when it won it all in 2016 and before that a loss in 1991.
“Regardless of how this all turned out, this is a very, very good ball club,” Hornets manager Tim Hanson said. “But in history, good teams don’t always win. They work their tails off and they’re good kids. They don’t cause many problems and you can hang your hat on that for sure.”
Hanson says that frustration set in during the third, which caused pitches to elevate and hang in the zone. He did tip his cap to reliever Garrett Taylor for working through 4 1/3 innings and only giving up two runs. Lafayette barreled a few balls, but Chipley’s impressive defense tracked down all of them.
Lane Brock drove in the lone run of the day for Lafayette, scoring Matthew Jenkins. Both are members of a 10-man senior class set to move on from the program. Hanson says he’s optimistic about the future of the program with lots of young talent coming in.
“I don’t like the word rebuild,” Hanson said. “You just do the best you got with what you have. But, a lot of these young kids have played a lot of baseball, so I think they’ll jump right into it.”