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2009 first-round baseball previews
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Banks County Leopards vs. Chattooga Indians

Coaches: Banks County, Joe Lord. Chattooga, Tyler Driskell.

Records: Banks County (16-8, No. 3 Region 8-AA); Chattooga (17-5, No. 2 Region 7-AA)

Key players: Banks County, C Zack Dale Sr. (.418 avg, 5 HR); OF Justin Gibbs Sr. (.469 avg, 36 R); 3B Chris Porter Sr. (.438 avg, 26 RBI). Chattooga, C Derek Dodd Jr. (.533 avg, 5 HR); 1B Braden Black Jr. (.338 avg, 31 RBI); P Cody Hall Jr. (5-2, 1.61 ERA).

Outlook: The Leopards used a high-scoring offense as their strategy in the regular season with 10 or more runs scored in 12 games. They enter today’s series with 9.1 runs scored per game and a team batting average of .355.

Chattooga, however, doesn’t stray far from those numbers, averaging 8.5 runs per game and a team average of .352. The Indians also had a 32-run game this season.

With both teams boasting a deep lineup, pitching could be the deceding factor. Banks County right-hander Tyler McEntire has a 1.29 ERA and will likely start Game 1.

The Leopards will go up against Chattooga’s pitching duo of Cody Hall and Colby Luther, who have combined for 11 wins and an ERA under 2.00.

With several statistical similarities, the biggest difference between the two teams is playoff experience. While the Indians missed the playoffs last year, Banks County made a first-round appearance, where it lost to Holy Innocents in two games. By next week, one of these teams will have something neither has had in years — a playoff series win.

Commerce Tigers vs. ELCA Chargers

Coaches: Commerce, Steve Cotrell; Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy, Doug Campbell

Records: Commerce (16-8, No. 2 Region 8-A); Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy (11-13, No. 3 Region 7-A)

Key players: Commerce, IF/P Carl Allen Jr. (.400 avg., 28 hits, 8-3, 3.82 ERA); IF/P Ethan Thomas So. (.391 avg., .480 OBP); C/IF Hunter Ward Sr. (.400 avg. 8 HR). Eagle’s Landing, 2B Tanner Bailey Sr.; IF Austin Murphy Sr.; OF Chris Bebout Sr.

Outlook: Commerce is making its first appearance in the state playoffs for baseball since 1998. The Tigers won six of their final eight games in the region schedule to finish one game ahead of Hebron Christian Academy for the No. 2 spot.

One of Commerce’s strengths is a pitching staff that can hold up in a three-game series. Allen is the leader of the Tigers on the mound, with Talmadge Green and freshman Josh Swistak (4-0, three saves) adding some depth to their rotation.

Cotrell certainly respects playing a program that won the state title in 2006 and finished runner-up in 2007, even though the Chargers’ record is below .500 this season. “This is an honor getting to play a school like Eagle’s Landing,” Cotrell said. “They don’t make mistakes.”

The Chargers’ coach felt like their season was going to be abruptly ended when the school closed earlier this week when a confirmed case of the swine flu surfaced from the student body. The GHSA decided on Tuesday that the series would be played as scheduled. Eagle’s Landing would have been forced to forfeit the series, automatically sending Commerce to the second round, had it not been able to play.

“I just already put it in my mind that we probably weren’t going to play anymore,” Campbell said. “Everybody’s season is going to end in a loss but one team, but you don’t want to end your season without saying something to your guys on the field.

“This would not have been a good way to end it.”

Flowery Branch Falcons vs. Oconee County Warriors

Coaches: Flowery Branch, Jimmy Lawler. Oconee County, Stan Fricks.

Records: Flowery Branch (20-5, No. 2 Region 7-AAA); Oconee County (17-6, No. 3 Region 8-AAA)

Key players: Flowery Branch, 3B James Wilson Sr. (.558 avg., 14 2Bs, 37 RBIs); P James Mills Jr. (6-1, .380 avg.); OF Brad Stone Jr. (.397 avg., 28 BBs). Oconee County, SS Adam Frazier Jr. (.490 avg., 18 SBs, 22 RBIs); 1B Chris Scott Sr. (.532 avg. 8 HR); P Trip Hill Sr. (7-2).

Outlook: The lone team from Region 7-AAA to advance out of the first round last year, Flowery Branch has momentum entering the postseason as winners of 18 of its last 20. After losing 10 players from last year’s region title team, the Falcons have not missed a beat this year with a roster filled with players able to contribute.

Oconee County also boasts that type of roster, and its lead-off hitter Frazier has been the main catalyst this year, hitting near .500 and striking out only once all season. But Frazier isn’t the only Warrior that can reach base, as Oconee County hit .374 as a team this year.

Lawler calls this first-round series one of two evenly matched teams that play the same style of baseball. Flowery Branch may have the edge in that it gets to play host to round one and because the Falcons have three pitchers in Wilson, Mills (4-1) and Matt Pilgrim (7-1) that can shut down an opposing offense.

Jefferson Dragons vs. Model Blue Devils

Coaches: Jefferson, Tommy Knight. Model, Gary York

Records: Jefferson (20-3, No. 1 Region 8-AA); Model (15-9, No. 4 Region 7-AA)

Key players: Jefferson, P Chris Beck Sr. (7-2, 0.77 ERA), SS Jamie Sexton Jr. (.441 avg, 7 HR, 26 RBIs), 1B Jake Fields Jr. (.564 avg, 7 HR, 28 RBIs). Model, 2B Jordan Brooks So. (.506 avg, 22 RBIs), OF Caleb Ratliff Sr. (.388 avg, 32 runs), SS Josh Mitchell Sr. (.323 avg, 10 2B).

Outlook: The Dragons are hitting their peak at just the right time. They have scored 10 or more runs in seven of their last eight games, most of which were part of their cruise to a Region 8-AA title.

Class AA’s fifth-ranked Jefferson has enjoyed stellar numbers at the plate and on the mound this year, but it was the pitching that stole the show in the Region 8-AA championship game, where righthander Chris Beck threw a no hitter and struck out 12.
In the semifinals, No. 2 pitcher Chris Swancey threw a complete game and allowed only four hits. He has a 7-0 record with an 1.35 ERA this year. Beck and Swancey will get to pitch games 1 and 2 for the Dragons.

Offensively, the Dragons are led by junior Jake Fields, whose .564 average is among the area’s highest. Fields and leadoff hitter Jamie Sexton each have seven home runs and a combined 54 RBIs.

Lakeview Academy Lions vs. Fellowship Christian Paladins

Coaches: Lakeview Academy, Deuce Roark. Fellowship Christian, Brad Pager

Records: Lakeview Academy (23-1, No. 1 Region 8-A; Fellowship Christian (6-17, No. 4 Region 7-A)

Key players: Lakeview Academy, P/IF Ralston Cash Jr. (7-0, 0.77 ERA; .438 average); C/P Brett Armour Sr. (.455 avg., 14 HR); P Tyler Ward (6-0, 2.18 ERA). Fellowship Christian, IF Nathan O’Reilly So. (.328 avg., .512 OBP); C/IF Josh Hart Jr. (.318 avg., 21 hits); OF Jimmy Stainback Sr. (.268 avg., 15 hits).

Outlook: Lakeview Academy is one of the main players in the state title race in Class A. The Lions are one of only four teams that finished with an undefeated region record in their classification.

But before Lakeview starts thinking about state title aspirations, it has to take care of first-round opponent Fellowship Christian. This is an important series for the Lions, who are trying to advance past the opening round of the state tournament for the first time since winning a state title in 2004.

The Lions have a well-rounded pitching staff with Cash, Armour, Ward, Taylor Simpson, Nick Drury and Dalton Munday all touting undefeated records on the mound this season. Armour is also one of the best power hitters in Class A with 14 home runs this season. Lakeview Academy has five players with an average of more than .400.

Fellowship Christian snuck into the playoff picture with consecutive wins against Mount Pisgah, Paideia and St. Francis to round out the regular season. The Paladins’ leading pitcher Kyle Royalty is 5-6 with a 3.00 ERA this season.

Lumpkin County Indians vs. Elbert County  Blue Devils

Coaches: Lumpkin County, Nick Jenkins. Elbert County, Bruce Evans.

Records: Lumpkin County (20-6, No. 3 Region 7-AAA); Elbert County (21-5, No. 2 Region 8-AAA)

Key players: Lumpkin County, OF/3B Will Anderson Fr. (.521 avg., 42 runs, 31 SBs); P Drew Uptegraph Sr. (6-1, 3.37 ERA, 53 Ks); SS Devin Dunson Sr. (.474 avg., 5 HR, 37 RBIs). Elbert County, P David Teasley Sr. (11-2); SS Chaz Bray Sr; OF Clete Brady Sr.

Outlook: Two teams heading in different directions square off in this opening-round series. The Blue Devils enter the playoffs riding a seven-game winning streak, while Lumpkin County comes in losers of five of its last eight. Despite the disappointing end to the season, Jenkins feels confident that his team will be ready to play.

“I feel like we’ve had three good days of practice and our kids have a good attitude,” said Jenkins, whose team won 12 straight earlier this year. “In our bullpen sessions, we’ve got back to doing what we’ve been doing before.”

One area that does not concern Lumpkin County is offense, where the team is averaging nine runs per game and have scored 10 or more runs 13 times this year. The Indians are led by Anderson, Dunson and Chad Fulton, who all hit more than .425 this year.

Evans said his team doesn’t have superstars, just guys that hit well.

“Our strength is that we don’t have very many weaknesses,” Evans said.

Lumpkin County hasn’t won a first-round series since 2003 and Elbert has lost both first-round series its played in since 2005.

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