Wednesday July 28th, 2021 10:39PM

Playoff baseball: Area teams face bumpy road in 2nd round

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter
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Of the seven northeast Georgia area teams to advance in last week's opening salvo of the Georgia High School Association baseball playoffs, five will have to find a little Road Warrior mentality if they want to move on to the quarterfinals when the second round begins Thursday.

Only two area teams -- Jefferson and North Hall -- will play amongst the comforts of home. The Dragons entertain Northwest Whitfield in Class 4A, while the Class 3A defending state champion Trojans will take on Lovett at Jody Davis Field.

All second round series are scheduled to begin with Thursday doubleheaders (weather permitting). Game 3s, if necessary, will take place Friday.

(NOTE: Scroll down for a complete schedule of second round series.)

Three teams -- Gainesville in Class 6A, Flowery Branch in Class 5A, and Jefferson in Class 4A -- already stared down elimination in the opening round, winning Game 3 to advance. Buford in Class 5A, North Hall (3A), Rabun County (2A), and Commerce (Class A Public) all took impressive sweeps in the opening round.

Flowery Branch and Buford were part of three Region 8-5A teams to advance, along with defending Class 5A state champion Loganville. Rabun County was among three Region 8-2A teams to move on. Commerce was part of a four-team contingent from Region 8-A to advance in Class A -- spread between the Public and Private brackets.

Region 7-3A champ North Hall opened defense of its 2017 state title with an impressive sweep of Hart County, surrendering just one unearned run behind the pitching of Reese Olson and Caleb Clark. The Trojans (23-5) now will take on perennial power Lovett in the second round at Jody Davis Field. The Lions, however, are just 5-7 on the road in 2018.

Gainesville (22-9) the No. 2 seed from Region 8-6A, held off Cambridge in a tense three-game series in the first round. But the Red Elephants travel to face an Allatoona squad (27-5) that won a brutal Region 6-6A that sent three teams to the second round. Allatoona also leads Class 6A in wins, has won 22 of its last 23 overall, and has lost just once at home all season.

Region 8-5A No. 2 seed Buford (21-11) was equally dominant in the opening round yielding just two hits in a pair of shutout wins over Rome in the frist round. The Wolves will get a test this week when they travel to Decatur (26-5), which has won 19 straight and is 16-1 at home.

Flowery Branch, the No. 3 seed from Region 8-5A, knocked off Villa Rica on the road last week in three games and will hit the road again on Thursday to face Region 5-5A champion Arabia Mountain.

Joey Ray, who is in his first year as coach of the Falcons, said they are not taking an underdog approach.

"Honestly, we feel we're better than our record," he said. "We played a tough schedule to get us ready for the region and the playoffs. The kids have done a great job of doing what we've asked of them."

The Falcons (18-15) started off 2-6 playing a monster non-region slate that included playoff stalwarts North Hall (defending Class 3A state champion), Gainesville, Jefferson, Northview, and Huntsville (Ala.). Add that to a tough Region 8-5A schedule including Buford and defending Class 5A champ Loganville and it was easy to see why Ray was enthusiastic heading into the second round. The Falcons also have stepped it up on the road, winning four of their last five away from home. The Rams (22-6) are 10-2 at home and have won eight straight, including a sweep of Riverwood in the first round. However, Ray said sometimes hitting the road can be advantageous.

"There's nothing more fun than hosting a playoff series, but there also are a lot of distractions," he said. "When you're on the road you can just focus on playing baseball. We went to Alabama and beat Huntsville, who is a favorite for a state title over there, and that kind of turned a light on for the kids. For us it's not about (what the other team is doing) but about what we're doing. When we play focused and don't make mistakes we feel we can beat anybody."

Jefferson (20-10) survived a tough series with Chestatee where all three games were decided by two runs or less. Expect another nail-biter as the Dragons will take on a Bruins (17-15) team that also needed a Game 3 win over LaGrange to advance. Northwest is just 5-6 on the road in 2018, and Jefferson is 2-2 in its last four home games.

Rabun County (12-16) is one of the surprise teams in Class 2A. The Wildcats will travel to Region 5-2A champion Callaway (22-9) in the second round. The Wildcats are just 4-13 on the road this season but collected a pair of impressive road victories last week in a sweep of Rockmart. The Cavaliers, who swept an 8-win B.E.S.T team in the first round, are just 3-3 in their last six games overall.

Commerce (19-11) demolished Wheeler County in the opening round, outscoring the Bulldogs 33-7 in a two-game sweep. The 10th-seeded Tigers now will head to No. 7 seed Emanuel County Institute (15-9), which had a bye in the first round. ECI has won seven of its last nine but is just 2-2 in its last four games. Commerce is 8-6 on the road in 2018.

(Games listed by time and in alphabetical order by visiting team. Area teams in bold)

Thursday, May 3
(All series will play doubleheaders)

Class 6A
Gainesville at Allatoona, 4 p.m.

Class 5A
Flowery Branch at Arabia Mountain, 2 p.m.
Buford at Decatur, 4:30 p.m.

Class 4A
Northwest Whitfield at Jefferson, 5 p.m.

Class 3A
Lovett at North Hall, 5 p.m.

Class 2A
Rabun County at Callaway, 5 p.m.

Class A
Commerce at Emanuel County Institute, 3:30 p.m.

Friday, May 4
(Game 3s, if necessary)

Class 6A
Gainesville at Allatoona, 5:55 p.m.

Class 5A
Buford at Decatur, 6 p.m.
Flowery Branch at Arabia Mountain, 5 p.m.

Class 4A
Northwest Whitfield at Jefferson, 5 p.m.

Class 3A
Lovett at North Hall, 6 p.m.

Class 2A
Rabun County at Callaway, 4:30 p.m.

Class A
Commerce at Emanuel County Institute, 5:30 p.m

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