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Making friends out of foes

Gainesville A's combine best of local talent into one roster

POSTED: June 7, 2008 5:00 a.m.

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Less than a month ago, Flowery Branch’s Patrick Henry, North Hall’s Josh Wright, and Gainesville’s Zach Bennett were rivals in the midst of a Region 7-AAA playoff chase.

Now, they’re teammates on the Gainesville A’s, warming up together in preparation for their first American Legion game at 7 p.m. June 4 against Dawsonville.

“These players are good enough to know how to get along and be successful,” A’s general manager Mike Casper said.

The A’s boast a lineup that includes a solid pitching staff. Valdosta State signee Henry, Shorter signee Wright, and North Georgia signee Bennett each ranked among the top pitchers in Hall County during the 2008 high school baseball season. The team also has players from Gainesville, North Hall, Johnson, Flowery Branch, West Hall, North Georgia College and State University and even one from North Carolina.

“This is one of the more talented teams we’ve ever had,” A’s coach Clay Haynes said. “These players were hand-picked among the best in the area.”

The players, many of whom will play college baseball, are exposed to a higher level of play in American Legion, playing against teams in the two areas of the North region. The A’s will play each team in their area four times. Dawsonville, Alpharetta, Cumming and Canton comprise the rest of Gainesville’s area. The schedule also includes two regular-season tournaments, one of which the A’s will play host to on June 26-29.

At the end of the regular season, the top four teams from the area play the top four teams from the North region’s other area in the North Georgia Tournament. The top four teams in the North Georgia Tournament advance to the state tournament against the top four teams in the South region.

The A’s won their second straight North Georgia Tournament and finished second in the state tournament last year.

“It’s a step up from high school baseball,” Haynes said. “Most teams have players from several different high school programs and try to take the best guys they can find.”

Haynes can relate to his players’ need for summer baseball in order to be ready for college. He was a member of the 2004 Class A state champion Lakeview Academy team before playing at Augusta State University.

“There are a lot of guys out here that are going into college and are using this to stay in shape,” Haynes said. “Some scouts even show up to our games, especially during tournaments.”

But many are just out there for the love the game.

“There’s a mixture of reasons why these guys are out here,” Haynes said. “Some guys just want to come out because they enjoy playing this game.”



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