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Sunday May 24th, 2015 1:07PM

2014 baseball previews: Area teams look to build on successful 2013 seasons

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter
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It will be hard for area baseball teams as a whole to top the 2013 campaign, highlighted by North Hall's run to the Class AAA finals and Gainesville reaching the Elite 8 before dropping two heartbreaking one-run games.

The 2014 campaign will have a theme of rebuilding, as several teams restock after graduating a slew of college-bound talent. However, look for the Elephants and Buford to make serious runs into the playoffs as both are loaded with pitching depth.

To get you more familiar with some of those names and teams, here is our 2014 baseball preview (teams are listed in alphabetical order):

BUFORD
COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Tony Wolfe, 18th season, 325-165
-- REGION: 7-AAA
-- 2012-13 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 22-6, Region 7-AAA runner-up, lost in first round of playoffs
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 8
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. SS/P Austin Upshaw -- signed with Georgia Perimeter -- (.333 BA, 1 HR 15 RBI 30 runs, 2-0 record, 1.40 ERA), Sr. OF Patrick Burnette -- signed with Georgia Perimeter -- (.387 BA 1 HR 12 RBI, 25 runs), Sr. 1B Hunter Puckett (.400 BA, 17 RBI), Sr. 3B Jake Mayo (.421 BA, 1 HR, 15 RBI), Jr. C Joey Bart -- committed to Ga. Tech -- (.478 BA, 2 HR, 30 RBI, 33 runs), Jr. P/OF Jake Higginbotham -- committed to Clemson -- (.380 BA, 9-1 record, 50 IP, 94 K, 0.70 ERA), Jr. P/SS Conner Bennett -- committed to Ga. State -- (3-2 record, 26.1 IP, 41 K, 3.46 ERA)
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: 2014 could be a big year for the Wolves.They bring back a talented pitching staff led by Clemson-commit Higginbotham and Ga. State commit Bennett. Kevin Coulter (offer from Western Carolina), and Keyton Gibson give the Wolves two more strong arms. Austin Upshaw, Austin Wilhite and Nick Wilhite will also contribute on the mound for Buford. Offensively, Buford should put up some big numbers with six position starters back, led by Bart. They should compete once again for the region title and with the graduation losses of North Hall may be the early front-runner.

CHESTATEE
COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Kyle Counts, second season, 4-22
-- REGION: 8-AAAA
-- 2012-13 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 4-22
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 6
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr, 3B Joey Scheman, Sr. P/C Tanner Gable, Sr. P/OF Stevie Mueller, Sr. C Jordan Browning, Jr. P/OF/1B Caleb Jameson, Jr. 1B Griffin Moore, Jr. 2B Eric George, Jr. P/SS Peyton Rider, So. OF/P Jonathan Yearwood, So. INF/P Mikey Petraroi, Fr. OF/P Sean Irick
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The War Eagles should be more experienced this year with six returning starters. Last season they had no seniors on the roster. This season they have five solid arms returning, not including freshman Sean Irick, who could be a player to emerge this season. They could challenge for a playoff spot but will need improvement at the plate, which was their weakness a year ago.

DAWSON COUNTY
COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Thad Burgess, 1st season
-- REGION: 7-AAA
-- 2012-13 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 13-15, lost in first round of playoffs
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 6
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. P/OF Logan Burt - committed to Ga. Highlands, (over .400 BA in 2013), Sr. C Colton Chester, Sr. LF Harley Pruitt, Jr. P/SS Levi Whitmire, Jr. P/1B J. T. Eggert, So. 3B Brody Chester, Jr. OF Zach Buchan
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: Burgess takes over the program from Jim Pruett. Known mainly for his work with the Tigers basketball team, he coached baseball for 10 years at Walker County High in Alabama. The Tigers have a solid nucleus up the middle with Colton Chester and Whitmire. Brody Chester moves to third from second. Colton Chester is a four-year starter and should anchor the lineup. If the Tigers find enough quality arms they could be in the playoff race once again.

EAST HALL
COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Wesley Crow, 6th season, 36-100
-- REGION: 7-AAA
-- 2012-13 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 9-17
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 6
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. SS/P Hunter Buffington (.351 BA, 26 runs, 15 RBI, 21 SB, 3.76 ERA), Sr. OF/P Jacob Cash (.312 BA, 14 SB), Sr. 3B/P/DH Matthew Gee (.326 BA), Sr. 1B Garrett Bishop (10 RBI, .553. OPS), Sr. P/INF Caleb Holtzclaw (3.35 ERA), Jr. P/OF Jack Hagwood (.310 BA, 12 RBI, 3.54 ERA), Jr. OF/P Spencer Skelton (12 runs, 10 RBI), So. INF Triston Cooper (.729 OPS .439 OBP)
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: Coach Crow has a high outlook for the 2014 season with six returning starters and the majority of the team gaining some experience last season. The Vikings will be much deeper on the mound than in years past with Holtzclaw, Buffington, Hagwood, Cash, Skelton, and two newcomers Eli Stuart and Tristan Thomas all seeing quality mound time. The key will be the lineup and how it fares against tough Region 7-AAA pitching.

FLOWERY BRANCH
COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Scott Myers, fourth season, 53-27
-- REGION: 8-AAAAA
-- 2012-13 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 16-11, lost in first round of playoffs
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 4
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. 3B/P Dylan Gibeau (.360 BA, 21 RBI, 2.10 ERA), Sr. SS Justin Seabolt (.350 BA, 25 runs, 12 SB), Sr. OF Chad Kahlert, Jr. P/INF Jonathan Hughes (.450 BA, 36 runs, 2.40 ERA), Jr. OF Stephen Skeggs (.330 BA)
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Falcons lost several top players from a year ago but Myers said they have enough talent to challenge for the playoff spot and maybe a region title.

GAINESVILLE
COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Jeremy Kemp, sixth season, 126-29
-- REGION: 8-AAAAA
-- 2012-13 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 27-5, Region 8-AAAAA champions,
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 6
-- KEY PLAYERS: P/CF Michael Gettys, SS/P Sims Griffith, P Chandler Newton, 1B/P Caleb Whitenton, OF Brandon Sewell, C/P Michael Curry, 2B Luke Maddox, OF Drew Wright OF
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Red Elephants have several talented pitchers returning, led by Georgia-signee Michael Gettys. Griffith and Newton give Gainesville a solid starting rotation. Michael Curry will have a big shoes to fill replacing Skyler Weber, who is starting for Georgia, at catcher. They should be in the playoff mix once again in 8-AAAAA.

HABERSHAM CENTRAL
COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Chris Akridge, fifth season, 40-63
-- REGION: 7-AAAAAA
-- 2012-13 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 8-18
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. P Nick Foster, Sr. SS Corey Pearson, Sr. P Patrick Taylor
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: Led by Foster and Taylor atop the rotation, Akridge said the Raiders are ready to surprise people in the always-tough Region 7-AAAAAA with what he hopes is their best season since he has been in Mt. Airy. Akridge said they have a veteran group that could challenge for a playoff spot.

JACKSON COUNTY
COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Tommy Fountain, seventh season, 70-83
-- REGION: 8-AAA
-- 2012-13 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 16-12, tied for Region 8-AAA runner-up, lost first round of playoffs
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 5
-- KEY PLAYERS: So. P Coleman Barbee (4-1, 1 save, 49 Ks 1.59 ERA), So. P Jase Latty (2-1, 2.62 ERA), So. DH Joel Ellis (.339 BA), Sr. CF Nick Corso (.302 BA, 11 RBI, 13 SB), Sr. 2B/1B Jacob Banks (.278 BA, committed to Lancaster Bible College), Sr. INF Patrick Overstreet (8-AAAAA First Team All Region 2B at Winder-Barrow last season, signed with Andrew College), C Ty Smith (started at East Jackson last season)
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Panthers are still young with three of their top pitchers being sophomores. But they are hoping that 14 players that saw significant time of started last year can help them challenge for a top spot in Region 8-AAA. The addition of move-ins of Overstreet and Smith should give them additional experience.

JEFFERSON
COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Tommy Knight, 11th season
-- REGION: 8-AA
-- 2012-13 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 26-4, Region 8-AA champs, lost in second round of playoffs
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 8
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. P/SS Max Ford (.371 BA, 27 RBI; 3-0, 0.46 ERA) , Sr. C Andy Nicolaus (.352 BA, 19 RBI), Sr. CF Hanon Price (.309 BA, 19 RBI, 10 SB), Sr. 2B Alex Gaba (.318 BA, 20 RBI), Jr. P/OF Micah Carpenter (.322 BA, 19 RBI, 11 SB; 5-0, 0.98 ERA), Jr. P/INF Jake Franklin (.506 BA, 36 RBI, 10 SB; 5-0, 1.38 ERA), Jr. INF Trent Sorrells (.315 BA, 1 HR, 16 RBI), Jr. P Ethan Garner (2-0, 1.78 ERA)
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Dragons return a wealth of experience in the field and four of their top pitchers from a year ago that combined for 15 wins and all with ERAs under 2.00. Franklin hit over .500 last year and six others batted over .300 on the season. Knight said he expects them challenge for a second straight region title.

JOHNSON
COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Jared Hodge, first season
-- REGION: 8-AAAA
-- 2012-13 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 4-19, 1-15 in Region 8-AAAA
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 7
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. OF Brandon Gailey, Sr. OF/P Jackson Frazier, Sr. 1B/P Chandler Cochran, Jr. SS/P Joel Munoz, Jr. 2B/SS/P Asher Griffith, Sr. 2B Corey Collins, Sr. C Jordan Green
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Knights had rough year in 2013 battling injuries most of the way. However, they return a solid group of juniors and seniors with experience. Pitching should be stronger with five players with pitching experience returning. Hodge said he expects them to challenge for a playoff spot in Region 8-AAAA.

LAKEVIEW ACADEMY
COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Duece Roark
-- REGION: 8-A
-- 2012-13 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 14-11
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 5
-- KEY PLAYERS: Jr. P/SS Dakota Chalmers (.442 BA, 2 HR, 23 RBI, 26 runs, 7-2 record, 1.45 ERA, 96 K), 2B/SS Drake Hollander (.284BA, 7 RBI, 25 runs), 3B Patrick Avery (.382 BA, 2 HR, 13 RBI, 7 runs), P/OF Avery Smith (4-4 record, 3.15 ERA 37 K), P/3B Alex Martin (1-1record, 4.28 ERA)
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Lions return most of their arms from a year ago but graduated five key offensive players from a year ago. Coach Roark said their pitching will have to carry them until the offense finds the right combinations. They are in a very tough region but should be in the playoff race.

LUMPKIN COUNTY
COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Dustin Allen
-- REGION: 8-AAAA
-- 2012-13 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 13-13
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 7
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. P/IF/OF Daniel McCrary (.329 BA, 20 RBI, 2.64 ERA, 44 K); P/OF Avery Whitehead (.303 BA); Sr. IF Weston Dowdy, Jr. P/3B Cody Waters, Jr. 3B/OF Timmy Summersett
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Indians narrowly missed out on the playoffs a year ago but bring back quality experience and should make a run for a playoff spot in 2014. McCrary, Whitehead, and Waters give them a solid pitching core to work with.

NORTH FORSYTH
COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Jim Cahill, 12th season
-- REGION: 6-AAAAAA
-- 2012-13 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 12-14
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 7
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. P Dylan Powers, Jr. OF Bailey Mauldin, Jr. INF Griffin Caracciolo, So. OF Cory Campbell, Sr. INF Harris Roberts, Jr. INF Brant Stark, So. OF Zac Slaton, Jr. P/1B Matthew Heard, Sr. P Devin Barron, Sr. P/OF Cody Gottberg
-- SEASON OUTLOOK: The Raiders missed out on the playoffs last year for the first time since 2010. Cahill said pitching depth and speed will be their strengths this season and that they should be in line to make a run at the region title this year.

NORTH HALL
COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Trent Mongero, 8th season, earned his 300th win as a coach last year
-- REGION: 7-AAA
-- 2012-13 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 32-6, Region 7-AAA champions, Class AAA state finalist, set 25 school records
-- RETURNING STARTERS: 6
-- KEY PLAYERS: Sr. SS/P Andrew Smith
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