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The Griffin High Rifle Team Won the State Championship

June 20, 2011 GHS

GHS, Cross: State Riflery Champs!

by JOHN SULLIVAN, Sports Editor jsullivan@griffindailynews.com

COLUMBUS, Ga. — State championships are always memorable. However, the one the Griffin High rifle team won Saturday at Fort Benning on the last shot was more memorable than most.

The Bears come from behind to shoot an 1148 and win their first-ever state championship in riflery by two points when co-team captain William Cross — who later in the day came from one point behind to win the individual state championship by 2.4 points — painted the bullseye on his last shot.

“As soon as I shot the last shot, I turned around and everyone was cheering,” said Cross. “It was at that point that I knew what I had done.”

The tension had built to that point. It was the end of a long dogfight with perennial state favorite East Coweta, which shot an 1146 to finish state runner-up in the 14-team field.

 

Griffin, which had the fourth best average (1137.5) during the regular season in Area 5, stood tied 858-858 after two relays with East Coweta, which had the best average (1149.7) in Area 5 this season.

Cross went into the last relay knowing the whole match was going to come down to how well he fared head-to-head against East Coweta’s Tyler Dayton.

“Everyone on the team came to me before the match and said we’re tied — it’s all up to you,” added Cross.

Dayton bested Cross 100-98 in the first position (prone), but Cross outscored Dayton 96-93 in the second position (standing) to help Griffin take a slim one-point lead heading into the final position (kneeling) and the last 10 shots.

Cross had seven shots left when he heard the Chief Range officer announce, “Five minutes remaining.”

“My heart was racing,” said Cross. “I squeezed off four quick shots — all 9’s.”

When Cross had four shots left, Dayton made a critical error — posting four 9s in a row for a total score of 288.

That left the door wide open for Griffin to claim the title.

In the clutch, Cross delivered.

Cross didn’t know what every spectator behind him knew at that point — it was numerically possible that East Coweta had a small chink in its armor.

The tension was too much for 15th-year Bears head coach Julius Lang.

“It was too much on the heart,” he said. “I didn’t want to make them nervous. I walked out.”

As the Chief Range Officer called “two minutes remaining,” Cross shot two 9’s in a row for shots No. 7 and No. 8.

“On the last two shots I finally calmed down,” said Cross.

Shot No. 9 found its way into the 10 ring and every coach and spectator knew that Cross needed an 8 to tie or better to win.

The crowd held its collective breath as Cross steadied his aim and with nerves of steel, placed a .177-caliber pellet into the 10 ring, giving Griffin a two-point win over East Coweta for Griffin’s first state championship in riflery ever and the school’s first team sports championship of any kind since the 2003 boys state basketball title.

It was only Griffin’s seventh trip to the state riflery match, though the Bears did post state runner-up finishes in 1992 and 2003.

Griffin’s team captain, Sara Howell, set the pace early by posting for only the second time this year in the 290’s with a 291 — the high score of all 63 individual competitors on the day. Meanwhile, teammates Ale Gonzalez and Kayla Collett kept things close with a 287 and a 280, respectively, in the next relay.

Gonzalez’ score was good enough for an eighth-place spot in the coveted Individual Finals where she bettered that with a 95.2 to improve to seventh overall on the day.

Howell sat atop the eight-person field heading into the Individual Championship where she squeezed off a 95.7 to finish with a 386.7, good enough for the Bronze Medal.

Cross, meanwhile, who was tied for second at 290 with East Coweta’s Kelsey Moral — both a point ahead of three others tied at 289 — shot a 99.7 to finish with 389.7 points and the Gold Medal, 2.6 points ahead of Dayton who added a 99.3 to finish with 387.3 points and the Silver Medal.

It was Griffin’s greatest medal haul since Heather Hayes won the Individual State Championship and teammate Jessica McClain finished runner in 2003.

Other members on this year’s Griffin team that contributed to a 9-1 regular season record — their only loss was to East Coweta — and co-school record score of 1153 (shot on Jan. 27 to tie a record set March 14, 2002) included: Christopher Connelly, Chrystina Tyler, Shayla Frazier and team manager, Madison King.

“The best part is all of them plan to shoot again next year, which makes it a joy for a coach,” said Lang.