Jeff Francouer, one of the prized football recruits for Tommy Bowden's Clemson Tigers has had one question to answer the past few months. It isn't whether he'll play wide receiver or defensive back, but whether it will be football, baseball, or both.
If there were any doubts going in to the Georgia 5A state final game in which Parkview took on Lassiter High School, there were none coming out. While college football is still a possibility, Francouer left little doubt that he will soon be playing professional baseball.
The numbers on the night for Francouer are awe inspiring. In the double header tonight in the 2 of 3 series for the title, Francouer went 6/7 at the plate with 4 home runs, 2 doubles, 1 Walk, 7 RBI, and 5 runs scored. He also picked up the win in both ends of the double header as he came on to pitch relief in the 6th and 7th innings (7 inning game). 2-0 on the mound as Parkview swept the double header, and 4 home runs, that was not a bad night for Mr. Francouer.
Internet hype? Or Georgia High School Legend? Ask Lassiter. In the past 2 seasons Parkview has eliminated Lassiter from the playoffs on 2-0 sweeps in the series. In the 4 games, Francouer finished 11 of 13 with 9 home runs and 2 doubles. Those numbers are astronomical in a beer drinking softball league. Francouer did this against one of the top High School Baseball programs in the nation.
While the numbers themselves are impressive, they don't tell even half the story. More importantly than what Francouer did, was when he was able to do it. With the score tied at 4 in the 7th and final inning, Francouer stepped in to the batters box to lead off the inning. The Lassiter pitcher was obviously given instructions not to give Francouer anything to hit, so Francouer took matters into his own hands. He belted the ball into dead center field for a 400+ foot home run to take the lead on a pitch that was down on his shoe tops. He then finished off the game with 9 pitches, all of them strikes, as he struck out to close out the game in which he earned the victory.
It turns out, Francouer was just getting warmed up for the encore performance in game 2. In his first at bat Francouer laced a double down the left field line. Keeping him in the park was a moral victory for the Lassiter team. Next time up, he popped out. The out that he made drew one of the loudest cheers from the Lassiter crows, as people were beginning to wonder if he was ever going to make an out. Taking a 3-1 lead in to the Top of the 6th inning, Parkview starter Tim Gustafson begin to tire and got in to a jam. In comes Francouer in relief. He gave up a single to allow the inherited runner to score. Next batter hits a ball to short in which the play was bobbled and another run comes in to score. It's 3-3 and Francouer has a blown save; maybe this kid is human after all.
Francouer gets out of the inning with no more damage, but Lassiter had climbed back in to the game knotting it at 3. Lassiter was not named national champions in 1999 and played in 4 of the last 7 State Title games because they were going to lay down and quit. The momentum had swung, but there was only one problem; Jeff Francouer was due to lead off the bottom of the 6th. Lassiter coach Mickey McMurtry was burned in the first game by a lead off home run from Francouer, would he put the speedy base runner on with no one out in a tie game? As it turns out, he didn't intentionally walk him, but he wasn't given anything to hit either, well, not at first. After watching 2 balls bounce past him, Francouer took a swing and a miss at inside gas, bringing the Lassiter faithful to their feet when seeing Francouer miss at something, at anything. The swing and a miss was on a pitch that was too close to be considered pitching around him, and one got the feeling that the pitcher would go after him with the next pitch. It was one pitch too many. Francouer sat the crowd back down with his second go ahead, and as it turns out, game winning home run in the 6th inning in as many games. Francouer circled the bases with his trademark grin, and as one spectator said, "He's always played these games as if he knows something that no one else does. He's always happy."
By this time, the wind was out of the sails of Lassiter's scrappy baseball team and base hit after base hit started to fall. Parkview loaded the bases after scoring a couple more runs. I noticed, there were only two more batters until Francouer got to hit again. By this time it was obvious if he was to get another at bat in his high school career, it would have to be this inning, as the game was all but decided. Junior out fielder Joey Sturdivant got an infield single driving in another run, and more importantly left the bases loaded for Francouer's last at bat as a high school prep.
Was there any doubt what would happen next? Francouer catapulted a grand slam home run shot in to left center field that left each outfielder dead in his tracks. They didn't move; they didn't even flinch. The home run cleared the pine trees in the outfield by a good 20 feet. The ball traveled 480 feet if it was an inch. The crowd predictably went nuts. They knew thy had just witnessed something special. They knew that they had just witnessed SOMEONE special. Francouer circled the bases with his trademark smile. Then came in to close the deal in the top of the 7th as Parkview won their second consecutive State Title, and Francouer added his 4th ring in 2 years having won back to back State Titles in football.
There were several players on each team that contributed to the outcome of the series, but this was without a doubt Jeff Francouer's night. This was Jeff Francouer's graduation party. He has been a treat for the Parkview faithful to watch the past 4 years, and he will now take his talent and his spirit for the game to a bigger stage. While there is always a chance that he won't be playing professional baseball as soon as this summer (he's being projected as the first outfielder to be taken in the June Draft), one has to think that the question isn't whether it will be baseball or football. But the question will be is it baseball AND football?
This was the kind of night that legends are made, and Jeff Francouer solidified his spot in the legends of Georgia Athletics with his encore performance tonight.