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Vestavia Hills Rebels win 7A Title: 1st since 2000

The Vestavia Hills Rebels celebrate winning the 7A State Championship (Chris McCulley-ABC 33/40)
The Vestavia Hills Rebels celebrate winning the 7A State Championship (Chris McCulley-ABC 33/40)
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The Vestavia Hills Rebels are back on top of the mountain in big school baseball. In a game that finished up after midnight Thursday at JSU's Jim Case Stadium, the Rebels defeated Central-Phenix City 4-1 to win the 7A State Championship, the first title for Vestavia Hills since the late great Sammy Dunn's Rebels pulled off the feat in 2000.

"At the beginning of the year we watched the good video documentary they did on Coach Dunn, the memories of him and all those things," Vestavia Hills Head Coach Jamie Harris said. "But there was one line at the end of the video that didn't sit well with our team. It said they haven't won one since. That's kinda been a rallying cry for us all year. Now we have."

SCHEDULE AND RESULTS: AHSAA baseball championship series

The Rebels won nine Class 6A state titles in a 10-year period from 1991-2000 under the direction of Dunn. It was only fitting that one of his own outstanding players during that stretch of AHSAA sports history was at the helm this time. Harris coached this team with help from former Rebels’ standouts during that period like Wes Kelley and Ryan Halla among his six-man staff.

The Red Devils of Central-Phenix City forced a third and deciding game in the series with a 5-4 win over the Rebels, winning in walk-off fashion on a Hunter Wippert base hit. In game 3 they took a 1-0 lead in the top of the 2nd inning when Rebs starter Ryan Vermillion walked in a run with the bases loaded.

From that point on, Vermillion was dialed in, going the distance while giving up only one hit and striking out six. And the Rebels offense scored four unanswered runs with Jonathan Downey driving in two of those runs.

Vermillion was the Tournament MVP, getting a strikeout to end the game. The future JSU Gamecock threw his glove high into the air and welcomed the dogpile that followed.

"We've been talking about it since October," Vermillion said. "We knew this team was special. We knew we could do it. The senior class was just so special. This team has been everything. Just coming out here throwing game three of the state finals, knowing that the season's on the line. It's do or die. I said last week was the most fun I had, but I think that topped it to be honest."

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SEE ALSO: Appalachian's epic comeback wins 1A State Baseball Title

In Game 1 of the series, the Rebels jumped out to a 3-0 lead but they were forced to bounce back after blowing a two-run lead in the top of the seventh inning. Vestavia Hills responded quickly though and won the game on a walk-off double by Luke Swanzy as pinch runner Carson Mann scored the game-winning run.

Vestavia Hills played a different role in Game 2 as the offense went stale after a long weather delay prior to the game's first pitch. The Red Devils built a four-run lead, keeping the Rebels off the scoreboard through the first six innings of the game. However, things turns around in the top of the seventh as Vestavia scored four unearned runs to tie the game. The Rebels nearly took the lead but the go-ahead run was called out at the plate after a spinning catch and tag from Central catcher Colton Wombles.

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The Red Devils turned that inning-ending momentum into some offense and Hunter Wippert delivered a walk-off single straight up the middle of the diamond to level the series at one game apiece. Wippert also was awarded the victory on the mound, getting all three outs in the top of the seventh inning after entering with the bases loaded.

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