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High school baseball previews

POSTED: February 15, 2014 11:04 p.m.

Gainesville

Region: 8-AAAAA

Coach: Jeremy Kemp

Last year’s record: 27-5, 14-2 Region 8-AAAAA

Key players: P/OF Michael Gettys, Sr. (.406 avg., 43 R, 38 SB; 10-1, 0.77 ERA, 114 K); 1B Caleb Whitenton, Jr. (.385 avg., 5 HR, 30 RBI); OF Brandon Sewell, Jr. (.344 avg., 5 HR, 36 RBI)

Outlook: Even after winning 59 games over the past two seasons, a state championship has remained just out of the Red Elephants’ reach. This year’s team could have just enough firepower to finally finish on top.

Michael Gettys has become one of the most electrifying players in the state over the past two seasons, and his accolades have earned him a scholarship to the University of Georgia with a high draft position all but guaranteed this summer. Gainesville will look to him again this year as the team’s go-to ace, as well as their primary run producer.

Alongside him is a loaded lineup that lost only two position players from the 2013 starting lineup. Coach Jeremy Kemp has high expectations for Caleb Whitenton, Brandon Sewell and shortstop Sims Griffith. Newcomer Michael Curry, a transfer from North Carolina, replaces future Georgia teammate Skyler Weber at catcher.

Chandler Newton moves into the No. 2 pitching position behind Gettys. He replaces Gettys’ younger brother Jonathan, who will not be back with the team for his sophomore season.

 

North Hall

Region: 7-AAA

Coach: Trent Mongero

Last year’s record: 32-6, 20-1 Region 7-AAA

Key players: IF/P Andrew Smith, Sr. (.421 avg,, 53 R, 41 SB); OF McCoy Savage, Sr. (.352 avg., 35 R, 18 RBI); OF Lincoln Hewett (.352 avg., 30 R, 29 RBI)

Outlook: The Trojans follow up their most successful season in team history with a big question mark at pitching. With 2013 aces Preston Graham and Colton Duttweiler gone, 95 percent of North Hall’s innings from a year ago have departed.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the Trojans are without talent on the mound. Junior lefty Corbin Lewallen only pitched 9.67 innings last season, but saw time during crucial situations in the state playoffs and has earned the role of North Hall’s opening-day ace.

Andrew Smith was slotted as a closer last season, but never got an opportunity to make a mound appearance. That won’t be the case this season — coach Trent Mongero anticipates both starting and relief roles for the Air Force football signee.

Smith will also serve as the Trojans’ leadoff hitter, with McCoy Savage, Lincoln Hewett and Stephen Murray (.233 avg., 20 RBI) anchoring the top portion of the order.

 

Flowery Branch

Region: 8-AAAAA

Coach: Scott Myers

Last year’s record: 16-11, 11-5 Region 8-AAAAA

Key players: P/IF Jonathan Hughes, Jr. (.450 avg, 6 HR, 21 RBI; 4-2, 2.40 ERA, 62 K); 3B/P Dylan Gibeau, Sr. (.360 avg, 21 RBI; 2.1 ERA); SS Justin Seabolt, Sr. (.350 avg, 25 R, 12 SB)

Outlook: Flowery Branch could be a sleeper to win the Region 8-AAAAA title, even having to compete against perennial powers Gainesville, Loganville and Winder-Barrow. The Falcons boast a solid pitching staff and several standout hitters.

Jonathan Hughes returns after a strong 2013 campaign in which he hit for a high average with plenty of power. This year, he’ll also be Flowery Branch’s No. 1 pitcher after last year’s ace, Brad Keller, was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks last summer.

Young Harris signee Dylan Gibeau will serve as the Falcons’ other pitcher and also start at third base. Shortstop Justin Seabolt and outfielders Chad Kahlert and Stephen Skeggs (.330 avg.) will also be relied on heavily for run production.

 

Chestatee

Region: 8-AAAA

Coach: Kyle Counts

Last year’s record: 4-22, 2-14 Region 8-AAAA

Key players: P/C Tanner Gable, Sr. (3.48 ERA, 55 K, 48 IP); OF Stevie Mueller, Sr.; P/1B/OF Jordan Browning, Jr.

Outlook: Chestatee has won just eight games over its past two seasons, but did so with young lineups and few upperclassmen (no seniors in 2013). This year is different, as the War Eagles return six starters, as well as four seniors and another four juniors.

Tanner Gable has served in Chestatee’s rotation for the past two seasons. He’s supported on the mound by Jordan Browning, Stevie Mueller, Caleb Jameson and Peyton Rider.

Freshman Sean Irick has the potential for a breakout debut season as the War Eagles’ starting center fielder and hitter in the top half of the order. He played for the United States’ Under-16 team at the Goodwill Games in Australia during winter break.

 

East Hall

Region: 7-AAA

Coach: Wesley Crow

Last year’s record: 9-17, 7-14 Region 7-AAA

Key players: SS/P Hunter Buffington, Sr. (.351 avg., 26 R, 21 SB; 3.76 ERA); OF/P Jacob Cash, Sr. (.312 avg., .766 OPS, 14 SB); DH/3B/P Matthew Gee (.326 avg., 14 R, 9 RBI)

Outlook: After finishing sixth in Region 7-AAA last year, the Vikings appear poised to make a push for the top four and a spot in the playoffs. They return six starters and a number of players that have played at the varsity level.

Pitching will be a strength for East Hall, with Hunter Buffington, Caleb Holtzclaw, Jack Hagwood (3.54 ERA) and Jacob Cash leading the rotation. Spencer Skelton, Eli Stuart and Tristan Thomas will also see time on the mound.

The Vikings may have to rely on winning low-scoring games. Coach Wesley Crow expects his hitters to be challenged by the region’s high number of quality pitchers.

 

Johnson

Region: 8-AAAA

Coach: Jared Hodge

Last year’s record: 4-19, 1-15 Region 8-AAAA

Key players: C Jordan Green, Sr.; OF/P Jackson Frazier, Sr.; SS/P Joel Munoz, Jr.; IF/P Asher Griffith, Jr.

Outlook: The Knights are entering their first year under head coach Jared Hodge, who joins the team after assistant stints at Chestatee, North Hall, Flowery Branch and most recently Habersham Central.

Hodge will have his hands full turning Johnson around after a rough 2013 campaign riddled with injuries, but he has seven returning starters to work with. He says his team is ready to compete for the postseason and has a goal of cracking the top four in Region 8-AAAA.

The Knights have five different players vying a spot in the pitching staff.

 

West Hall

Region: 7-AAA

Coach: Dustin Rennspies

Last year’s record: 11-15, 7-14 Region 7-AAA

Key players: OF Cameron Johnson, Sr. (.351 avg.); P Zach English, Sr. (4-3, 1 save; .333 avg.); C Lincoln Stubbs, Sr. (.367 avg.); OF Michael Cronic, Sr. (.312 avg.)

Outlook: West Hall’s first year under Dustin Rennspies proved to be a success. After winning just seven games in 2012, the Spartans improved to 11 wins, their most since 2007, and finished one spot out of playoff position in Region 7-AAA.

West Hall has four key hitters that batted above .300 last season, including first-team All-Region selection Cameron Johnson. Catcher Lincoln Stubbs return after a .367 year in 2013.

On the mound, Zach English makes his transition to team ace after serving as the Spartans’ quarterback in the fall.

 

Lakeview Academy

Region: 8-A

Coach: Deuce Roark

Last year’s record: 14-11, 10-8 Region 8-A

Key players: P/SS Dakota Chalmers, Jr. (7-2, 1.46 ERA, 96K; .442 avg., 26 R, 23 RBI); 2B/SS Drake Hollander, Sr. (.284 avg., 25 R, 7 RBI); P/OF Avery Smith, Sr. (4-4, 3.15 ERA, 37 K)

Outlook: The Lions returned to the postseason in 2013 after a three-year drought, and an opportunity to reach the playoffs once again is certainly within reach with five returning starters this season.

A notable returner is Dakota Chalmers, Lakeview’s most prominent threat both on the mound and at the plate. His breakout sophomore year included Region 8-A Co-Pitcher of the Year honors.

The Lions have plenty of pitching depth, including Avery Smith and Alex Martin (1-1, 4.29 ERA, 11 K).

 

Riverside Military

Region: 8-AA

Coach: Mike Hutch

Last year’s record: 12-11, 8-8 Region 8-AA

Key players: P Collin Pettell, Sr. (4-4, 4.01 ERA); IF Stephen Wechsler, Sr.; IF Ben Herman, Sr.

Outlook: The Eagles continued to successfully develop their baseball program despite having limited depth in 2013. They posted their second straight winning season and qualified for the playoffs for the first time since rejoining the GHSA in 2009.

Pitcher Collin Pettell has become a standout multi-sport athlete for Riverside, having also found success on the mound while serving as the Eagles’ quarterback in the fall.

Overall, Riverside has six returning players in 2014, including three All-Region 8-AA selections. The Eagles have six newcomers, including three juniors and a pair of sophomores. Coach Mike Hutch has been impressed with his team’s defense, hitting and speed heading into the season.

 

Jefferson

Region: 8-AA

Coach: Tommy Knight

Last year’s record: 26-4, 14-0 Region 8-AA

Key players: P/SS Max Ford, Sr. (.371 avg., 27 RBI; 3-0, 0.46 ERA); P/OF Micah Carpenter, Jr. (.322 avg., 19 RBI, 11 SB; 5-0, 0.98 ERA); P/IF Jake Franklin, Jr. (.506 avg., 36 RBI, 10 SB; 5-0, 1.38 ERA)

Outlook: The Dragons are in solid position entering the 2014 season with a wealth of veteran starters in the lineup and a deep pitching staff. They’ll look to improve on a highly successful 2013 campaign that included a region title and a playoff series victory.

Jefferson has four pitchers that posted an ERA under 2.00 last season, including two that finished under 1.00. Three of them, Max Ford (Georgia commit), Micah Carpenter and Jake Franklin (Kennesaw State commit), were also key hitters with .300-plus campaigns.

The Dragons also have quality hitters in catcher Andy Nicolaus, outfielder Hanon Price and infielders Alex Gaba and Trent Sorrells. Junior Ethan Garner provides Jefferson with another solid arm after going 2-0 with a 1.78 ERA last season.

 

Buford

Region: 7-AAA

Coach: Tony Wolfe

Last year’s record: 22-6, 18-3 Region 7-AAA

Key players: P/OF Jake Higginbotham, Jr. (9-1, 0.70, 94K; .380 avg., 20 R, 11 RBI); C Joey Bart, Jr. (.478 avg., 33 R, 30 RBI, 2 HR); SS/P Austin Upshaw, Sr. (.333 avg., 24 H, 30 R, 15 RBI; 2-0, 1.40 ERA, 23 K).

Outlook: The only thing that might have kept Buford from making a deep postseason run last year was a bad matchup in the first round of the state playoffs. The Wolves were ousted by a St. Pius X team that went on to reach the state semifinals.

Otherwise, Buford had a superb 2013 season, and much of that team is back this year. It includes six returning position players and a polished pitching staff, led by Clemson commit Jake Higginbotham.

Conner Bennett (3-2, 3.46 ERA) and Keyton Gibson will compete for spots in the rotation, with innings also expected from Austin Upshaw and Nick Wilhite.

At the plate, Georgia Tech commit Joey Bart returns after hitting .478 in 2013, alongside 3B Jake Mayo (.421 avg., 24 H, 15 RBI), Patrick Burnette (.387 avg., 29 H, 25 runs), and Hunter Puckett (.400 avg., 18 hits, 17 RBI).

 

Jackson County

Region: 8-AAA

Coach: Tommy Fountain

Last year’s record: 16-12, 9-5 Region 8-AAA

Key players: P Coleman Barbee, So. (4-1, 1.59 ERA, 49 K); P Jase Latty (2-1, 2.62 ERA, 27 K); IF Jacob Banks (.278 avg., .430 OBP, 12 R, 10 RBIs)

Outlook: Expectations of hosting a first-round playoff game and even winning a region title are being tossed around at Jackson County. The Panthers’ 2014 roster includes 14 players that were part of the varsity lineup last year.

Jackson County’s rotation features a pair of seasoned aces in lefty Coleman Barbee and Jase Latty, who combined to eat up 88 1/3 innings in 2013. Opponents batted .195 against the two sophomores. Panthers coach Tommy Fountain says his team has four pitchers that have been recorded at 80-plus miles an hour.

The Panthers’ lineup includes standouts Jacob Banks (Lancaster Bible College commit), Joel Ellis (.339 avg., 9 R, 4 2B) and Nick Corso (.302 avg., 26 R, 11 RBI, 13 SB). Infielder Patrick Overstreet joins the team after starting at 2B for Winder-Barrow the last two years, as well as East Jackson transfer Ty Smith at catcher.

 

White County

Region: 7-AAA

Coach: John Brown

Last year’s record: 17-10, 14-7 Region 7-AAA

Key players: P Spencer Adams, Sr. (5-4, 1.88 ERA, 59 K; .367 avg., 3 HR, 12 2B); Stetson Gearin, Jr. (.333 avg., 24 H, 11 RBI); C/OF Will Flowers (.268 avg., 3 HR, 24 RBI)

Outlook: After missing the playoffs in 2012, the Warriors responded by getting back to the postseason for the third time in four seasons, finishing third in a deep Region 7-AAA last season.

White County returns five players from last year’s starting lineup, but must replace one of the program’s most prolific hitters in Brett Westmoreland, who hit .538 and swatted 13 home runs in 2013.

The new face of the team is Spencer Adams, a Georgia commit who coach John Brown says will rank among the region’s best pitchers. He’ll be joined in the rotation by Joel Pritchett (3-1, 1.67 ERA) and Matthew Hambrick (3-0, 1.34 ERA).

At the plate, Stetson Gearin brings back a .333 batting average. Adams and Will Flowers are the team’s top returning power hitters after belting three home runs apiece last season.

 

Dawson County

Region: 7-AAA

Coach: Jimmy Pruett

Last year’s record: 13-15, 11-10 Region 7-AAA

Key players: P/IF Logan Burt, Sr. (.442 avg., 3 HR, 54 RBI); IF/C Colton Chester, Sr.; IF Levi Whitmire, Jr.

Outlook: The Tigers slipped into the postseason last year, taking fourth in a talented Region 7-AAA for their first playoff berth since 2009. They were at their best during the first half of the 2013 season, starting off 11-6.

Coach Jimmy Pruett enters his 20th year of coaching baseball at Dawson County with a remnants of last year’s team back for another round. Logan Burt is the most notable returning starter after a career year in 2013 that earned him a scholarship with Georgia Highlands College.

Now that the Tigers have shed their postseason drought, they’ll try to win their first playoff series since 2007, when they were still playing in Class AA.

 

Lumpkin County

Region: 8-AAAA

Coach: Dustin Allen

Last year’s record: 13-13, 8-8 Region 8-AAAA

Key players: P/IF/OF Daniel McCrary, Sr. (.329, 20 RBI; 2.64 ERA, 44 K); P/OF Avery Whitehead (.303, 14 R, 8 SB); IF Weston Dowdy, Sr.

Outlook: The Indians made more strides in 2013, notching a .500 record and finishing fifth in Region 8-AAAA. They reached the 10-win mark for the sixth consecutive year.

Lumpkin County must now tackle the departure of several key hitters. This season, the Indians have seven players that earned varsity experience last season. Coach Dustin Allen says the team has tremendous speed and solid work ethic.

Daniel McCrary returns after a solid 2013 campaign as both a hitter and a pitcher. Avery Whitehead brings back a .300 average. Weston Dowdy, Junior P/3B Cody Waters and junior 3B/OF Timmy Summersett are also projected to make an impact.

 

Banks County

Region: 7-AAA

Coach: Scott Frederick

Last year’s record: 2-24, 1-20 Region 7-AAA

Key players: P Hunter Caudelle, Sr.; SS/P Taylor Turner, Sr.; P Jacob Bullock, So.

Outlook: The Leopards are ready to be more competitive in Region 7-AAA after a development season in 2013 that saw them win only two games. They bring back seven starters from last year’s team.

Banks County’s pitching staff features the 6-foot-7, 230-pound right-hander Hunter Caudelle, who has been clocked in the upper 80s and has attracted high interest from several colleges, according to head coach Scott Frederick.

Having a college prospect is an improvement in itself for the Leopards, who had virtually no varsity experience in their rotation last year. This time around, they have five pitchers that make up their staff in 2014.

 

Habersham Central

Region: 7-AAAAAA

Coach: Chris Akridge

Last year’s record: 8-18, 1-13 Region 7-AAAAAA

Key players: P Nick Foster, Sr.; SS Corey Pearson, Sr.; OF Brandon Moore, Sr.

Outlook: Playing in a challenging baseball region may have kept the Raiders from having a winning season. They were 7-5 before entering their region schedule last year, but could only muster one win the rest of the way.

Habersham Central coach Chris Akridge expects his team to be much more competitive in their last season in Region 7-AAAAAA, which is otherwise made up completely of massive Gwinnett County schools. The Raiders return six starters, all of whom are seniors.

Habersham Central has ensured it’ll be battle-tested before region play this season, with three two-game series against playoff teams Gainesville, Oconee County and Stephens County.

 

Commerce

Region: 8-A

Coach: Steve Cotrell

Last year’s record: 11-15, 7-11 Region 8-A

Key players: IF/P Keenan Lord, Sr.; IF/P Chandler Rogers, Jr.; 1B/P Daniel Streetman, Sr.

Outlook: Staffed by a younger lineup, the Tigers couldn’t replicate their 21-win season in 2012, instead falling into a tie for sixth in Region 8-A.

But Commerce remains a competitive program in a tough region dominated by private schools, and with six seniors has the opportunity to slide back up into the standings and compete for a spot in the Class A public state tournament.

 

Towns County

Region: 8-A

Coach: Chris Vardo

Last year’s record: 1-24, 0-17 Region 8-A

Key players: SS/P Harrison Hobbs, Sr.; C/IF Vonya Baldwin, Sr.; IF/OF Cruz Shook, Jr.

Outlook: After a rough 2013 season, the Indians are looking to rebound this year with four returning starters and a more experienced team in general.

Harrison Hobbs enters his fourth year as a varsity starting pitcher. Vonya Baldwin has served behind the plate all four of those seasons. Cruz Shook is a leading position player for the Indians.

 

Union County

Region: 8-AA

Coach: Brandon Bradburn

Last year’s record: 17-8, 11-3 Region 8-AA

Key players: IF/P Lane Everett, Sr. (7-2, 2.06 ERA, 52 K); P Kalvin Duckworth, Sr. (1.46 ERA, 82 K)

Outlook: The Panthers won’t soon be forgetting the 2013 season. They improved their win total from the previous year by five, finished second in Region 8-AA and won a state playoff series.

This year, a younger Union County team will be without 2013 Region 8-AA Player of the Year Zach Odom, who now plays at nearby Young Harris. The Panthers will count on just three returning starters and several sophomores to step up.

Union County retains quality pitching, including 2013 region first-team selection Lane Everett.


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