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Monday February 24th, 2020 2:58AM

Baseball: Newcomers give 2019 playoffs an unknown element

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter

The 2019 version of the GHSA baseball playoffs could be one of the more interesting in many years around northeast Georgia.

Habersham Central is making its first appearance in 14 years, Gainesville will be not be participating for the first time in 14 years, and newcomer Cherokee Bluff, coached by former Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp, qualified for the postseason in Class 3A in its inaugural season.

Defending Class 4A champion Jefferson is now in Class 3A and won a rugged Region 8-3A title. East Jackson, also from 8-3A, qualified for its first postseason in program history, and Lakeview Academy, in Class A Private, is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

Of course, there are still recent stalwarts Buford (Class 5A), North Hall (Class 3A) as well as Flowery Branch (Class 4A) who all are part of 11 northeast Georgia teams ranging from Class 6A to Class A to advance to the playoffs.

No. 1-ranked Jefferson (24-1) was impressive during the regular season in winning the 8-3A title. However, they draw a tough assignment in Westminster, which won the 3A state title in 2016. The two teams last met in the 2015 Class 3A semifinals, which the Dragons won in a tough three-game series in Atlanta. This time the Wildcats will have to come to the Dragons.

"Westminster is a tough first-round matchup for us. They have a rich tradition in baseball and they will be hard to beat," Jefferson coach Tommy Knight said. "We will have to play as good as we have all year. The key, just like it always is in the playoffs, will be good pitching, good defense and timely hitting."

The Dragons also are one of three 2018 state champions -- Benedictine (2A) and Lovett (3A) are the others -- in the Class 3A field.

"It's kind of unusual in the fact that there are three defending state champions in 3A this year," Knight said. "I guess we all have a target on our backs."

Meanwhile, Habersham Central ended a long playoff drought finishing third in a tough Region 8-6A. Raiders head coach Chris Akridge said the playoff appearance is a culmination of years of rebuilding the program. However, he hopes it is just the beginning.

"We've worked toward this for a long time and to finally get back in the postseason, something that has only been done a couple of times in the history of our school, is a great feeling," Akridge said. "Everyone is very excited. However, I don't feel that our guys are content with just getting in...we're looking to go down and take 2 out of 3 and advance to Round 2."

The Raiders (19-11) will travel to Douglasville to take on No. 10-ranked South Paulding (24-5) and the Spartans, who have won six straight and 13 of their last 14 overall, will offer a huge challenge.

"South Paulding is a very good team, a top-10 team in the state," Akridge said. "The key will be doing what has made us successful all season....bringing our best effort, attitude and focus, and competing for each pitch at the plate and on the mound. We've got a plan offensively and defensively, we just have to execute it."

(Check below for the complete first-round schedule.)

 

GHSA Baseball playoffs, first round
WEDNESDAY'S SCHEDULE (April 24) 

Class 6A
Habersham Central (Region 8, Seed 3) at South Paulding (Region 5, Seed 2), DH 4 p.m.

Class 5A
Arabia Mountain (R5, S4) at Buford (R8, S1), DH 5 p.m.

Class 4A
Flowery Branch (R7, S3) at Heritage-Catoosa (R6, S2), DH 2 p.m.

Class 3A
East Jackson (R8, S4) at Pace Academy (R5, S1), DH 4:30 p.m.
Cherokee Bluff (R7, S4) at Ringgold (R6, S1), DH 5 p.m.
Coahulla Creek (R6, S3) at North Hall (R7, S2), DH 5 p.m.
Westminster (R5, S4) at Jefferson (R8, S1), DH 5 p.m.

Class 2A
Union County (R8, S4) at Bremen (R5, S1), DH 4:30 p.m.
Banks County (R8, S3) at Callaway (R5, S2), DH 5 p.m.

Class A Private (uses Power Rankings to seed)
Lakeview Academy (No. 4) has a first-round bye

Class A Public (uses Power Rankings to seed)
Crawford County (No. 24) at Commerce (No. 9), DH 4 p.m.

THURSDAY'S SCHEDULE (April 25)  

Class 6A
Habersham Central (R8, S3) at South Paulding (R5, S2), (Game 3, if necessary) 6 p.m.

Class 5A
Arabia Mountain (R5, S4) at Buford (R8, S1), (Game 3, if necessary) 6 p.m.

Class 4A
Flowery Branch (R7, S3) at Heritage-Catoosa (R6, S2), (Game 3, if necessary) 4 p.m.

Class 3A
Cherokee Bluff (R7, S4) at Ringgold (R6, S1), (Game 3, if necessary) 5 p.m.
Coahulla Creek (R6, S3) at North Hall (R7, S2), (Game 3, if necessary) 5 p.m.
East Jackson (R8, S4) at Pace Academy (R5, S1), (Game 3, if necessary) 5 p.m.
Westminster (R5, S4) at Jefferson (R8, S1), (Game 3, if necessary), 5 p.m. 

Class 2A
Banks County (R8, S3) at Callaway (R5, S2), (Game 3, if necessary) 4 p.m.
Union County (R8, S4) at Bremen (R5, S1), (Game 3, if necessary) 5:30 p.m.

Class A Public (uses Power Rankings to seed)
Crawford County (No. 24) at Commerce (No. 9), (Game 3, if necessary) 1 p.m.

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