Gainesville vs. Cambridge, 4 p.m.
Buford vs. Rome, 4 p.m.
Flowery Branch at Villa Rica, 4:30 p.m.
West Hall at North Oconee, 4 p.m.
Chestatee at Jefferson, 5 p.m.
North Hall vs. Hart County, 5 p.m.
East Hall at Morgan County, 5 p.m.
Tickets are $10 for doubleheaders and $7 for single games, per GHSA rules
Trevor Flow insists the standard for his North Hall High baseball team hasn’t changed one bit.
Even after the squad lost almost every position player and a starting pitcher to graduation and sustained the departure of its head coach, those both inside and outside the program still expect the Trojans to follow up their first-ever state championship with another deep postseason run.
The key to making that happen, Flow said, is keeping things simple.
“It’s about defense, getting ourselves into good counts at the plate, throwing strikes and getting ahead in the count,” the first-year coach said. “We’ve kind of hammered the fundamental aspect more than anything.”
North Hall is one of seven area schools that opens the state playoffs — which Flow called “a new season” — with a doubleheader today. The No. 1 seed Trojans (21-5), along with second-seeded Gainesville and Buford, are the only local teams hosting first-round, best-of-three series, all of which were delayed from Thursday due to inclement weather.
No. 3 seeds Flowery Branch and West Hall will hit the road looking for first-round upsets, just like fourth-seeded Chestatee and East Hall.
For Red Elephants coach Jeremy Kemp, his team’s playoff series against No. 3 seed Cambridge (14-14) represents his final go-round with Gainesville (20-8).
The 10th-year coach is taking the same position at new Hall County school Cherokee Bluff when it opens this fall. But Kemp, who has led the program to three state semifinal series during his tenure, isn’t placing any special emphasis on his final playoff run.
“It’s pretty much the same as the past,” Kemp said. “It’s not about me, it’s about the kids playing baseball. It really hasn’t come up a whole lot. … I thought about if for a bit, but it’s not really a subject that we talk about. It’s all about us figuring out a way to win this series.”
To do that, the Red Elephants will have to beat a team Kemp said has a similar makeup to them and succeed where they stumbled a year ago.
Gainesville earned a second seed and hosted No. 3 seed Dalton last season but had to force a Game 3 after losing the series opener. The Red Elephants ultimately dropped the deciding game, but Kemp is confident his players can harness lessons from that game in this year’s tournament.
“We’ve been there before, so hopefully they’ll use what they learned from last year and prepare themselves and be ready for it,” Kemp said. “ … They’ve been there and know what to expect. Experience is something you can’t create for somebody that hasn’t been there.”
That’s the challenge Flow is facing with an inexperienced lineup outside of seniors Reese Olson (pitcher/third baseman) and Charlie Erickson (catcher).
Yet youth hardly hindered North Hall, which ripped off a 15-game winning streak en route to the Region 7-3A championship. For their efforts, the Trojans earned a first-round series against No. 4 seed Hart County (12-18), which Flow characterized as inexperienced but scrappy.
Though few of North Hall’s current contributors played a role on last year’s third-seeded team, they were along for the ride as the program won its first-ever state title.
“I’m hoping that with the experience on the sidelines and being at games last year, they’ll understand what the energy will be like,” Flow said. “ … I’ve pounded it into them to take it all in at beginning but to remember the game stays the same. It doesn’t change, so we have to keep on doing what we’ve been doing.”
That’s the goal for every remaining team, including the county’s pair of No. 3 seed. West Hall (16-10) travels to Bogart to face second-seeded North Oconee (20-7-1), while Flowery Branch (16-14) will pay a visit to No. 2 seed Villa Rica (18-11).
East Hall (13-14) will look to topple a region champion when it faces No. 1 seed Morgan County (20-9) in Madison. Chestatee (16-14) will attempt to pull of the same feat when it visits top-seeded Jefferson (18-9).
Buford (19-11), meanwhile, hosts No. 3 seed Rome (15-12) for its first-round playoff series.