Tonight’s contest between the Cherokee Bluff and East Hall baseball teams — the last matchup of a three-game series between the schools — will feature a unique change of scenery.
After the Bears won a 7-3 decision at East Hall on Monday and claimed a 9-2 win in Flowery Branch on Wednesday, they’ll attempt to make it a clean sweep at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville this afternoon. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m.
The game provides an opportunity for young athletes to take a bigger-than-usual stage as they play in the home stadium of the Atlanta Braves minor league Triple-A Gwinnett Stripers. But according to East Hall coach Eric Fowler, bringing home a win is far more important than the ballpark the contest takes place in.
“It wouldn’t matter if we were playing at a rec park or SunTrust Park for me,” he said. “For them (players), it’ll be great, but we’ve also got to understand the importance of (tonight) and not get caught up in any of that. Maybe we can play and then look back later and kind of enjoy it.”
The game is an important one for both teams.
For Cherokee Bluff (6-3, 2-0), it’s a chance to improve on a successful first season as it chases the playoffs in Region 7-3A.
Bears coach Jeremy Kemp said his team’s early success all starts with its pitching.
“We’ve been pretty consistent on the mound,” Kemp said. “We started hitting a lot better this week and just playing better baseball. I’m proud of the guys for working hard and continuing to improve.”
Things have been going less smoothly for East Hall.
The Vikings have dropped their first seven games to start the year, and their two losses to Cherokee Bluff dropped the team’s region record to 0-2.
According to Fowler, those first two games came down to the basic execution of fundamentals, rather than any spectacular plays from either side.
“They’ve made routine plays and we haven’t,” he said. “That’s kind of what it boils down to. If we do that (tonight), we like our chances. If we don’t, it’s kind of going to be the same story.”
Fowler added that with the roster still very much influx, the team is still far from a finished product.
He’s used the early stages of the season to help find the right balance in his lineups and is still searching for the right fits at several positions.
“We’re still looking for some guys to step up and take some spots,” the Vikings’ coach said. “We haven’t really ran the same starting lineup out there all year, so we’re just opening it up and giving some guys some opportunities and see if we can kind of put something together that way.”
East Hall and Cherokee Bluff enter the game in vastly different places, but both teams are working toward the same goal.
That the contest will be played in a venue that holds more than 10,000 people, when full, represents a hopeful precursor to a successful final seven weeks of the regular season.
“As we improve, hopefully we’ll get an opportunity to play in a state championship, and it’s in a big venue when you do,” Kemp said. “Those big games are usually played with big crowds. I’m excited for the kids to be able to experience that. Hopefully we play well.”