Tuesday March 2nd, 2021 2:30AM

Baseball: Playoff previews: Area teams face grueling 1st round

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter

GAINESVILLE — With more than a dozen northeast Georgia-based baseball teams advancing to the state playoffs -- 14 to be exact -- there are plenty of chances to continue the deep postseason runs that have become commonplace for area teams when tournament play begins on Friday.

One thing is certain, however: it will not be an easy road for any of the northeast Georgia teams scattered from Class A to Class AAAAAA. Only four will host first round series -- Gainesville in Class AAAAAA, Buford in Class AAAAA, Dawson County in Class AAA, and Banks County in Class AA.

Gainesville (Region 8-AAAAAA), Buford (Region 8-AAAAA), and Dawson County (Region 7-AAA) each finished second in their respective regions to earn the home field advantage in the first round. Banks County, which actually finished third in Region 8-AA, gets an unusual chance to host in the first round as the Leopards opponent, Hapeville Charter, could not because of field issues. The Hornets share a community park field and could not reserve it in time with such a late notice on playoff seedings.

The other 10 teams will face significant road challenges, including Chestatee -- which is making its first-ever playoff appearance in baseball. The War Eagles, seeded third out of Region 7-AAAA, will take on LaGrange, the No. 2 seed from Region 5-AAAA.

Chestatee coach Jon Brewer said the history-making feat has not been lost on those inside the program and around the community. And they are not considering themselves as the underdog despite the obvious lack of playoff experience.

“We’re excited about it (as a team). There’s been a lot of energy from the parents, the kids, and the community. We’ve had some high-energy practices,” he said.

“We feel we can win this series. LaGrange was the best matchup for us out of that region. Both teams can hit the ball some and both teams are about equal in pitching. We’re prepared for them. We know a lot about what they have. I think it will be a competitive series.”

But, Brewer admitted that withstanding some of the initial adversity on the road will key.

“As far as understanding what the playoffs are really about, I think ignorance can be bliss,” Brewer said. “Our guys haven’t experienced people yelling at you as soon as you get off the bus like they will when we get there. That can be intimidating. But I think our guys will be able to handle that.”

Banks County coach Tom Kelley finds his team with a unique opportunity to host the first round series.

“It’s very unusual. I don’t think I’ve heard of something like this before,” Kelley said. “It’s tough for (Hapeville) but when they asked us to host obviously we said yes. Hopefully that will be a factor for us.”

Buford coach Tony Wolfe, whose Wolves are coming off back-to-back state title series appearances, brings in his most inexperienced team playoff-wise in many years. They face a resurgent North Springs team in Class AAAAA that is among the state’s leaders offensively. And, Buford was slumping over the final two weeks losing four of its last six games.

“I believe it is going to be a very tough series,” Wolfe said. “North Springs is having a really good year. We struggled down the stretch and will have to play much better to win this series. But I believe in our kids and know they will respond with a great effort (Friday).”

For Gainesville and Region 8-AAAAAA, it will be a challenge across the board. All four teams in Region 6-AAAAAA cracked the 20-win plateau.

“That’s a very, very good region over there,” Red Elephants coach Jeremy Kemp said. “But so is our region. I expect every series to be tough.”

The Red Elephants take on Dalton in a rematch of last year’s Elite 8 series that Gainesville won in three tough games at Ivey-Watson.

“We know them pretty well and they’ve got most of those guys back so we expect it to be tight again,” Kemp said. “We’re not worried or planning about whether it could go three games. Our focus is on Game 1 and trying to get the advantage by winning the first game. That’s all we’re thinking about.”

Region 7-AAA, with North Hall, Dawson County, and Fannin County, also will face a tough road against a Region 5-AAA group that houses defending Class AAA state champion Westminster, which managed just a fourth-place finish, and last year’s Class AA state champion in Lovett.

The Trojans were ranked No. 1 late in the season but picked a bad time to have their worst slump in several years dropping five straight and six of their last seven to fall to third place in 7-AAA. The key may be the North Hall pitching staff against a Pace Academy lineup that has scored the second-most runs in Class AAA. However, the top four teams in 5-AAA feasted on poor pitching staffs in the bottom of that region.

“It’s a new season with new opportunities,” North Hall coach Trent Mongero said. “Pace is a quality opponent from a super region. We will have to pitch well. It starts with pitching for us. But, we’ll have to do a better job of getting hits with guys on base. That’s what really hurt us the last couple of weeks.”

For a look at all of the day's contests involving area teams, simply scroll down. And be sure to check back with AccessWDUN throughout the night for score updates and game stories and video highlights. You can also check for scores and highlights on our Twitter feed: @AccessNGASports


(Games listed in alphabetical order by highest classification and order of visiting team)
(All series are best-of-three with doubleheaders scheduled for Friday and Game 3, if necessary, scheduled for Saturday.)

-- WHEN: Friday 4 p.m. (DH); Sat. noon, if necessary
-- WHERE: Ivey-Watson Field, Gainesville
-- RADIO: 1240 ESPN Radio
-- DALTON (20-7): No. 3 seed Region 6-AAAAAA
-- GAINESVILLE (21-7): No. 2 seed Region 8-AAAAAA
-- NOTABLE: The two teams are no strangers to each other. They met in last year’s Elite 8 round with the Red Elephants winning a tight three-game series in Gainesville. ... The Red Elephants are working on a streak of three-straight appearances into the semifinals or better. ... The matchup could be the Dalton offense vs. Gainesville pitching staff. Dalton has scored 202 runs (7.4 rpg), good for 8th in AAAAAA, and is hitting .348 as a team. Gainesville has allowed just 80 runs (2.83 rpg), which is 6th-best in AAAAAA. ... The Catamounts are led on the mound by Cole Shelton (0.85 ERA, 49.1 IP, 29H, 63K) and Harrison Hughes (1.60 ERA, 48 IP, 43H 28K). ... Collier Scott and AJ Smallwood are expected to get the Friday starts on the mound for Gainesville. ... The Red Elephants are led at the plate by Banks Griffith, Scott, and Charlie Wall. 

-- WHEN: Friday 3 p.m. (DH); Sat. 2 p.m., if necessary
-- WHERE: Atlanta
-- FLOWERY BRANCH (16-11): No. 3 seed in Region 8-AAAAA
-- RIVERWOOD (22-6): No. 2 seed in Region 6-AAAAA
-- NOTABLE: First playoff appearance for the Falcons since a first round loss in 2014. It is the first appearance for the Raiders since 2013. ... The Raiders are balanced. They are 4th-best in pitching in AAAAA allowing just 81 runs (2.89 rpg) and scored the 5th-most runs (254, 9.08 rpg) on offense. ... The Falcons are 9th in pitching allowing just 96 runs (3.55 rpg) and will have to get strong performances from a young staff. So. Zach Wagner (5-0, 2.40 ERA, 30K, 3BB), So. TJ Armstrong (1.11 ERA, 5 SV), Fr. Zander Sechrist (1.70 ERA, 2W, 2SV, 24 IP, 36K), and Jr. Preston Felt (3.20 ERA, 4-3, 37 IP, 45K) have all pitched well this season and give them plenty of depth. ... However, the Falcons are near the bottom in AAAAA in runs scored (129, 4.77 rpg) and will need to find some offense. Jr. Anthony Grutadaurio leads the team in average (.417), hits (30), HR (2), and RBI (21).

-- WHEN: Friday 5 p.m. (DH); Sat. 2 p.m, if necessary 
-- WHERE: Gerald McQuaig Field, Buford
-- NORTH SPRINGS (24-6): No. 3 seed Region 6-AAAAA
-- BUFORD (17-12): No. 2 seed Region 8-AAAAA
-- NOTABLE: Buford is coming off back-to-back state championship series appearances, capturing the 2015 AAAA title. But this team has little playoff experience. But the Spartans also are lacking in playoff experience making their first appearance since 2011 ... But North Springs has been among the classification leaders in runs scored most of the season. The Spartans are 2nd in scoring (272, 9.06 rpg). They also have allowed just 101 runs (3.36 rpg). ... Buford also is limping into the playoffs having lost two straight and 4 of its last 6 overall. The Wolves have yielded just 115 runs (3.96 rpg) but gave up 36 of those during their last six games. ... Senior southpaw Frank Bradshaw and sophomore right-hander Ramsey David are expected to get starts on Friday, though coach Tony Wolfe would not reveal in what order they would b called on.

-- WHEN: Friday 4:30 p.m. (DH); Sat. noon, if necessary
-- WHERE: LaGrange
-- CHESTATEE (13-17): No. 3 seed Region 7-AAAA
-- LAGRANGE (19-11): No. 2 seed Region 5-AAAA
-- NOTABLE: Chestatee is making its first-ever playoff appearance in program history and has a chance to make even more history over the weekend. A series win for the War Eagles would give them the most wins in a season in program history. The 2005-06 teams both won 14 games. ... Chestatee will put its season on the backs of Sr. starters Austin Sargent and Braxton Nicholson. The pair twice has swept doubleheaders from the mound. ... The War Eagles are averaging just under 5 runs a game (4.8 rpg) while the Grangers have allowed 97 runs (3.25 rpg) on the season. ... Chestatee is 3-4 vs. non-region playoff teams this season.

-- WHEN: Friday 4:30 p.m. (DH); Sat. 1 p.m., if necessary 
-- WHERE: Ringgold
-- JEFFERSON (16-12): No. 3 seed Region 8-AAAA
-- HERITAGE, CATOOSA (24-6): No. 2 seed Region 6-AAAA
-- NOTABLE: The Dragons have playoff experience having advanced to the 2nd round or better 3 of the last 4 seasons, including the Class AAA state championship series in 2015. ... But the Generals will be a tough matchup. They are coming off an Elite 8 appearance in 2016 and their entire roster consists of juniors and seniors. ... Heritage has yielded the 3rd-fewest runs in AAAA (67, 2.23 rpg) and has scored the 4th-most runs (230, 7.06 rpg). The Dragons have allowed just 113 runs (4.03 rpg) but struggled down the stretch going just 3-6 over their past nine games.

-- WHEN: Friday 5 p.m. (DH); Sat. 1 p.m., if necessary
-- WHERE: LaGrange
-- WEST HALL (11-14): No. 4 seed Region 7-AAAA
-- TROUP COUNTY (20-10): No. 1 seed Region 5-AAAA
-- NOTABLE: It is the fourth straight trip to the playoffs for the Spartans, who are still looking to advance past the first round. It won’t be an easy task against the Tigers, who held off perennial playoff stalwarts LaGrange and Cartersville to win the region title. ... Troup doesn’t overwhelm you on either offense (151 runs, 5.0 rpg) or the mound (144 runs allowed, 4.8 rpg) but know how to win close games going 9-2 in 1-run games and 13-4 in games decided by two runs or less. ... West Hall struggled down the stretch dropping their last five games. The Spartans were just 1-6 in games decided by two runs or less. ... West Hall Jr. P Jeffrey Jenkins can match up with anyone. P Charlie Cochran could be a key on the mound but finding some offense may be the deciding factor for the Spartans, who have scored two runs or less 11 times with five shutouts.

-- WHEN: Friday 4:30 p.m. (DH); Sat. 12:30 p.m., if necessary
-- WHERE: Stone Mountain
-- FANNIN COUNTY (15-13): No. 4 seed Region 7-AAA
-- REDAN (21-9): No. 1 seed Region 5-AAA
-- NOTABLE: The Raiders are no stranger to the playoffs and having success. They won the 2013 Class AAAA state title. Fannin County, meanwhile, is making its first appearance since 2011. ... However, the Rebels have quietly put together a solid season in a tough region. They finished with a 2-game win streak and won 10 of their last 11 overall after losing two 1-run games to region champ Greater Atlanta Christian. ... Redan closed out the season with a 12-game winning streak. ... Fannin Jr. P Will Shirah is a legitimate Division I prospect and can beat anyone. But the Rebels will need to find some help. ... The Raiders are 4th in scoring (248, 8.26 rpg) and yielded the 3rd-fewest runs (79, 2.63 rpg) in AAA. ... Fannin is averaging 5.85 rpg and giving up 4.07 rpg on the season.

-- WHEN: Friday 2:30 p.m. (DH); Sat. 1 p.m., if necessary
-- WHERE: Ringgold
-- JACKSON COUNTY (18-12): No. 4 seed Region 8-AAA
-- RINGGOLD (25-5): No. 1 seed Region 6-AAA
-- NOTABLE: The two teams know each well having met in last year’s quarterfinals with Jackson County rallying from a game down to take a tough 3-game series win. ... It should be another tough series regardless of the seedings. Jackson is not the typical No. 4 seed. The Panthers are coming off a semifinals appearance in 2016 and returned several key players from that group. ... The key may well be if the Panthers pitching can hold down the Tigers offense, which leads all of AAAA in scoring (257, 8.56 rpg). Panthers hurlers Chris Griggs, Zane Corley and Co. will have to pitch well. ... Jackson County has also been a very good road team this season going 10-4 away from Panther Field.

-- WHEN: Friday 5 p.m. (DH); Sat. 3 p.m., if necessary
-- WHERE: Tiger Field, Dawsonville
-- LOVETT (15-11): Defending Class AA state champions; No. 3 seed Region 5-AAA
-- DAWSON COUNTY (20-8): No. 2 seed Region 7-AAA
-- NOTABLE: The key element in this series could be Tiger Field itself. The small dimensions favor the hitters and the Tigers have taken advantage of the friendly confines going 10-3 at home scoring 119 runs (9.15 rpg). However, Lovett is 4th in AA in pitching allowing just 80 runs (3.07 rpg) on the season. The Lions also are just 5-6 on the road this season. ... Dawson Fr. southpaw Hudson Sapp could be a key factor along with Gardner Webb-signee Noah Davis on the mound. The Lovett offense is averaging 7.34 rpg but feasted on the bottom four teams in 5-AAA scoring 122 of their 191 runs in those 8 games. They averaged just 3.83 rpg vs. everyone else.

-- WHEN: Friday 5 p.m. (DH); Sat. 6 p.m., if necessary
-- WHERE: Atlanta
-- NORTH HALL (19-10): No. 3 seed Region 7-AAA
-- PACE ACADEMY (19-7): No. 2 seed Region 5-AAA
-- NOTABLE:  This should be the classic good pitching vs. good offense series. The Knights are tied for 2nd in AAA in scoring with 249 runs (9.57 rpg) while the Trojans are 6th in pitching allowing just 84 total runs (2.75 rpg). Expected North Hall starters Reese Olson, Corban Meeler, and Taber Mongero will have to throw strikes and keep guys off base. ... However, Pace Academy has yielded just 96 runs (3.69 rpg). The Trojans offense was stagnant scoring just 20 runs while going 1-6 down the stretch in region play. Mongero, Austin Adams, and Charlie Erickson will have to get on base atop the order.

-- WHEN: Friday 4 p.m. (DH); Sat. noon, if necessary
-- WHERE: Homer
-- HAPEVILLE (13-4): No. 2 seed Region 6-AA
-- BANKS COUNTY (13-15): No. 3 seed Region 8-AA
-- NOTABLE: The interesting thing about this series is that the Leopards are hosting despite being a No. 3 seed. Hapeville couldn't host because of field issues. They share a community park field and couldn't reserve it in time for the playoffs. Banks County offered to host the series. ... The Leopards went 4-1 down the stretch. ... The Hornets are averaging just under 10 runs a game but did not face the caliber of competition that Banks County saw in 8-AA. The Leopards have allowed 145 runs (5.17 rpg) but the key may be the Banks County offense. They have scored 94 runs in their wins (7.23 rpg) but just 27 runs (1.80 rpg) in their losses.

-- WHEN: Friday 4 p.m. (DH); Sat. 1 p.m., if necessary
-- WHERE: Atlanta
-- RABUN COUNTY (8-14): No. 4 seed Region 8-AA
-- SOUTH ATLANTA (14-8): No. 1 seed Region 6-AA
-- NOTABLE: The Wildcats are making their fifth straight playoff appearance, including making the semifinals in 2015 while the Hornets did not make playoffs in 2016. ... Rabun County struggled over the second half of the season going just 3-9 after a 5-5 start. ... The Hornets played in a weak region overall but was tough at home posting a 9-2 record. ... Rabun County will have to find a way to slow down a Hornets offense that is averaging 10 runs a game. The Wildcats have allowed just 5.9 runs a game.

-- WHEN: Friday (DH); Saturday if necessary
-- WHERE: Wrightsville
-- COMMERCE (15-14): No. 19 seed
-- JOHNSON COUNTY (17-9): No. 14 seed
-- NOTABLE: Commerce has made the playoffs 7 of the last 8 seasons but has gotten out of the first round just once, in 2015. ... The Tigers played in perhaps the toughest region in Class A (8-A) that had eight teams advance to the playoffs including both Public and Private. They were 6-12 vs. teams that made the playoffs. ... Johnson County has advanced to the second round twice in the past four seasons.

-- WHEN: Friday 4 p.m. (DH); Saturday 10 a.m., if necessary
-- WHERE: Bowden
-- TOWNS COUNTY (11-17): No. 22 seed
-- BOWDEN (17-11): No. 11 seed
-- NOTABLE: The Indians were 6-5 coming down the stretch to sneak into the top 24 and into the playoffs. The Red Devils were 11-4 at home, however they dropped their final four games of the season. ... Pitching has been the issue for the Indians allowing 206 runs (7.35 rpg) and they will need to keep runners of base. Bowden has scored over 6 runs a game on the season.

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