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2009 high school baseball preview
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Banks County Leopards

Coach: Joe Lord

2008 record: 16-11, 13-6 Region 8-AA

Key players: C Zack Dale Sr. (7 HR); OF Justin Gibbs Sr. (.388, 4 HR, 23 RBI); P Kasey Hudgins Sr. (6-2); DH/3B Tyler Hulsey (6 HR).

Outlook: The Leopards are going to look familiar to their opponents this season. Almost the entire starting lineup returns, most of which are seniors that were part of state playoff teams the last two years. With depth at each position, things are only looking up for Banks County.

Offensively, the Leopards return their key power hitters in Zack Dale and Tyler Hulsey. The two sluggers combined for 13 home runs last year. Justin Gibbs, one of the team’s leading hitters last season, returns for his senior year. Bill Redmon poses a threat for opponents on the basepaths.

Along with a loaded lineup, the Leopards also return a reliable pitching staff from last year’s playoff team, led by 2008 six-game winner Kasey Hudgins. Jeff Smith, Chris Porter and newcomer Wesley Angel are also expected to log innings on the mound this season.
Should Banks County live up to its full potential, another trip to the playoffs is realistic.

Buford Wolves

Coach: Tony Wolfe

2008 record: 12-11, 7-9 Region 6-AA

Key players: P/OF Josh Rudnik Sr. (.391 avg., 18 RBI); C Landon Anderson Sr. (.342 avg., 24 RBI); OF Cody Getz Sr. (.375 avg., 27 hits).

Key losses: OF Jaytee Swanson (.377 avg., 17 RBI); 1B Will Bowers (.280 avg., 23 RBI); OF Ian Quinn (.233 avg., 14 RBI).

Outlook: Wolfe really isn’t jumping the gun when says that Region 6-AA is one of the toughest regions in any classification. Top-ranked Blessed Trinity, No. 3 Lovett, No. 8 Greater Atlanta Christian and No. 9 Westminster are all ranked from 6-AA, leaving Buford’s margin for error minimal if it wants to secure one of the four playoff spots.

Obviously, things haven’t gotten any easier this season in 6-AA with 2007 state champions Holy Innocents and 2008 state champion Wesleyan now playing in Class A.
“There is great pitching in this region and so many SEC-caliber players in 6-AA,” Wolfe said. “You’re not going to find many regions like this where there are so many year-round baseball kids.

“This is definitely a great baseball region.”

The Wolves pitching staff is going to rely on Young Harris signee Josh Rudnik this year. Last season, he was 2-2 with 23 hits allowed in 21.6 innings pitched. Jeb Dills will be the No. 2 starter in Buford’s rotation, and left-hander Hunter Cash is No. 3.

Buford’s biggest defensive adjustment this season will be Getz’s move to the outfield from the infield. Wolfe says that overall, the offense looks improved from last season.

“We’re athletic, strong and will compete very hard,” Wolfe said. “But the biggest question is can we play infield defense the way we need to in order to stay competitive in this region?”

Chestatee War Eagles

Coach: Wes Gentry

2008 record: 5-19, 4-17 Region 7-AAA

Key players: 2B Ryan Avery Sr.; C Matt Miller Sr.; P Kevin Clifford Jr.

Outlook: After a 5-19 record last year, the War Eagles can take solace knowing that 12 players that started are coming back this year. Leading the way is Avery, the catalyst for the offense and a solid defensive player up the middle. Their outfield is also solid defensively with Spencer Gruenfelder and Alex Moore providing speed and strong throwing arms.

Pitching will once again be key for the War Eagles, who boast an ace in Clifford, whose velocity has improved greatly from his sophomore year. Senior Kurt Stevenson and junior Dustin Peck will also see a lot of time on the mound this year, with Stevenson giving Gentry a viable option out of the bullpen late in the game.

Their battery mates are Rafeal Mendoza and Miller, who will DH when Mendoza is catching. Miller is the senior leader of the War Eagles and provides the team with solid defense and consistent hitting.

The War Eagles will also welcome back Lamar Brooks, who missed the entire 2008 season due to injury.

Speed will be the key for Chestatee as it hopes to climb into the middle of the region standings and vie for a possible playoff berth.


Commerce Tigers

Coach: Steve Cotrell

2008 record: 5-16, 5-13 Region 8-A

Key players: IF Carl Allen Jr,; C Hunter Ward Sr.; UT Talmadge Green Sr.; IF Ethan Thomas So.

Outlook: With an average of four runs scored per game last season, the second-lowest in Region 8-A, run production is the difference-maker for the Tigers this season.

Commerce’s four returning starters, two of which are seniors, will be important for leadership purposes, since the rest of the team is comprised mostly of freshman and sophomores.

Allen and Ward provide power for Commerce in the middle of the order and will be pivotal in scoring runs this season. Joining them is freshman Cody Streetman, who begins his first year of varsity baseball as one of the biggest and strongest players on the team.

Other freshmen that have the opportunity to make a difference in the their first varsity season include pitcher Colton Davis, who is expected to pick up a good amount of innings, and Josh Swistak, who starts at third base and will also be used on the mound.

Though young, first-year coach Steve Cotrell believes this year’s team is hardest-working he has ever coached, and looks to be a force with some more varsity experience.

Dawson County Tigers

Coach: Jim Pruett

2008 record: 17-10, 10-5 Region 8-AA

Key players: P/OF Ren Butram Sr. (5-2, 2.31 ERA); 2B/P Jacob Barr Sr. (.389 avg., 2 HR); SS/P Chase Gilreath Jr.

Outlook: After a run to the second round of the state playoffs in 2007, the Tigers posted another winning season last year, but fell short of a return to the postseason.

This year, some of the key pieces are in place for Dawson County, though with only four starters returning, Pruett’s 2009 Tigers are still a young bunch.

Butram, a Kennesaw State signee, leads the team on the mound and at the plate. Last year he slugged six home runs and was a stalwart of the pitching staff. This year, he’ll be helped by fellow pitchers Barr and Gilreath, giving the staff some depth.

Barr, a three-year letterman, will also be leaned on to provide offense after posting some of the team’s best hitting numbers in 2008. Junior Chase Williams also returns to the starting lineup at third base.

Pruett, who’s been coaching at his alma mater since 1988, is also looking for contributions from junior catcher Kaleb Kicklighter and sophomore first baseman Caleb Holbrood.

East Hall Vikings

Coach: John Hardison

2008 record: 9-17, 8-14 Region 7-AAA

Key players: SS Drew Adams, Jr. (.338 avg., 3HR 17 RBI)

Key losses: P Ken Wise (.347 avg, 20 RBI); OF Zeb Miller (.303 avg. 5 HRs, 23 RBI).

Outlook: The Vikings have all but two players returning from a team that won eight region games in 2008.

Experience will be the key to East Hall’s success as will be the play of Drew Adams, who was the second leading hitter on the 2008 team as a sophomore.

A Vikings’ defense that gave up 8.5 runs per game last year will have to improve for them to contend for a playoff spot.

Also returning in key positions for the Vikings will be designated hitter Wesley Johns (.260 avg. 9 RBI, 18 hits), outfielder Cody Davidson (.300 avg. 22 RBI, 2 HR), second baseman Jimmy Byers (.300 avg., 27 hits at the leadoff position) and third baseman Chris Cornett (.314 AVg. 15 RBI).


Flowery Branch Falcons

Coach: Jimmy Lawler

2008 record: 27-5, 20-2 Region 7-AAA

Key players: OF Brad Stone Jr.; C Bucky Free Sr.; Inf/P James Wilson Sr.

Key losses: P Patrick Henry (11-2, 2.67 ERA, 89 Ks; .554 avg., 10 HR, 52 RBIs); P Cody Ackerman (7-2, 3.73 ERA, 3 SV); 2B Danny Price (.474, 20 RBI, 41 Runs).

Outlook: The Falcons will have a new look come opening day, at least on the mound and in six of the eight positions on the field.

The defending Region 7-AAA champions, and only region team to make it out of the second round of the state playoffs, have lost their most productive pitchers and hitters and return only two starting position players from last year’s squad.

Gone is Patrick Henry, the program’s leader in hits (158) and doubles (42).
Henry was also part of one of the strongest rotations, along with Cody Ackerman, in Region 7-AAA last year.

“(We) have to get good pitching if (we) hope to contend for another region title,” said Flowery Branch coach Jimmy Lawler who is entering his seventh year.

Gainesville Red Elephants

Coach: Jeremy Kemp

2008 record: 21-7, 19-3 Region 7-AAA

Key players: C Sloan Strickland Jr. (.344 avg., 28 runs, 23 RBIs); P/OF Andy Endmondson Sr. (5-2, 2.25 ERA).

Key losses: 3B/P Robby Hefflinger (45 runs, 8 HRs, 35 RBIs); DH/P Zach Bennett (12 HRs, 45 RBIs); Adam Parker (.300+ avg., 5 HRs).

Outlook: First-year coach Kemp will have his work cut out for him as the Red Elephants lost eight of the nine starters that took the field last year. The biggest losses were Hefflinger and Bennett, who combined for 20 HRs and 80 RBIs at the plate, and 11 of the team’s 21 wins on the mound. Not only are last year’s two winningest pitchers gone, but Gainesville also lost Justin Fordham (5-3) and Max Joseph (4-1) to graduation. The lone returning pitcher is Andy Edmondson, who had a 1.90 ERA in 18.1 innings last year.

While the bulk of their pitching and offense is gone, the Red Elephants still have Strickland, who has hit in the middle of the order since his freshman year. The junior catcher hit .344 last season with 23 RBIs and three home runs and will be asked to provide the team with just as much power as in year’s past.

Helping Strickland in the order is junior Tai-ler Jones, Edmondson and Mark Casper, who hit .600 in limited action last season.

The Red Elephants are young, with three freshman and three sophomores on the roster, but with five seniors, their leadership at the top should be strong.

Habersham Central Raiders

Coach: Justin Clutter

2008 record: 13-13, 12-12 Region 8-AAAA

Key players: SS Kyle Barrett Sr. (.303 avg); P Seth Harvey Sr. (21.2 IP, 32 K); OF Colton Webber Sr. (.277 avg .440 OBP); C Johnathan Thomas Sr. (.384 avg, 22 RBI).

Outlook: The Raiders return nine seniors to the team this year, so a lack of depth at the plate won’t be a serious problem. Pitching may be a different story, as only 36 innings of varsity experience on the mound comes back. Luckily, Habersham Central’s pitching staff includes three left-handed hurlers.

The Raiders offense will be the difference maker with so many seniors in the batting order. They are led by three-year starting catcher Johnathan Thomas, whose .384 average and 22 RBIs led the team last year. His supporting cast includes outfielder Colton Webber, second baseman Mitch Brewer and shortstop Kyle Barrett, who handles leadoff duties.
Habersham Central will be challenged by some of the best teams in Class AAAA, two of which were in the state semifinals last year. With seasoned bats in the lineup, a strong showing by the pitching staff could make the Raiders a tough team to beat.

Jackson County Panthers

Coach: Tommy Fountain

2008 record: 6-20, 5-19 Region 8-AAAA

Key players: SS/P Rob Williams Jr. (.203 avg., .360 OBP); 3B/OF Codye Elrod Sr. (8 RBIs, .348 OBP).

Key losses: P/C Trevor Booth (5-6, 3.04 ERA.); C/P Matt Bolt (34 IP, 4.53 ERA, 8 2Bs); RF Taylor Kennedy (.273 avg., 11 runs).

Outlook: The Panthers graduated 11 seniors and seven starters last year, and will be forced to replace them with a plethora of young players that they hope will contribute right away. The biggest position those players will have to fill is on the pitcher’s mound, as Jackson County returns just three innings of varsity pitching experience. Juniors Larry Evans, Williams and Ken Miller hope to fill the pitching void left by Booth, Bolt, Matt Broom and Josh Farmer.

Leading the cast of newcomers is freshman SS/P Austin Robinson, who will bat lead off for the Panthers and according to Fountain, is one of the most talented freshman he’s seen in a while. Robinson’s speed at the top of the lineup should help out a Panthers team that hit .229 last season. Jackson County should be better defensively, but what they get out of the pitchers will decide how many wins the team gets this season.

The move down to 8-AAA won’t help the Panthers, as they will now have to face perennial powerhouse Stephens County and playoff contender Oconee County twice this year.

Jefferson Dragons

Coach: Tommy Knight

2008 record: 22-7, 17-1 Region 8-A

Key players: P/SS Chris Beck Sr. (9-1, 1.51 ERA, 99 K); P/1B Jake Fields Jr. (.580 avg., 18 HR); SS/OF Lucas Redd Jr. (.429, 21 RBI).

Key losses: P Cameron Blinn (6-2, 2.04 ERA); OF Tyler Hill (.356 avg., 27 RBI); SS Anthony Dowker (.362 avg., 23 RBI); OF Blaine Skaggs (.374 avg., 24 RBI).

Outlook: Jefferson’s coach is putting it mildly when he says his pitching staff should be solid this season. The Dragons return Beck, the 2007 and 2008 Pitcher of the Year in Region 8-A, for his senior season. Beck is a hard-throwing right-hander, hits well in the middle of the order and is signed to play at Georgia Southern next season. Senior Chris Swancey assumes the No. 2 spot in the Dragons’ pitching staff this season after pitching well in the 2008 playoffs. Junior Jamie Sexton will be the No. 3 arm in the pitching rotation.

Jefferson’s offense has plenty of weapons too. Fields set school records for home runs (18) and batting average (.580) last year. He was also the 8-A Infielder of the Year last season. Redd also provides some power in the middle of the Dragons’ order after hitting four home runs last season. Junior Kyle Hardy is expected to also provide some stability to Jefferson’s offense and play third base.

The Dragons are moving up to Class AA this season. Jefferson is in Region 8S-AA with Banks County, East Jackson, Oglethorpe County and North Oconee. “We will struggle early as we have lots of new faces in the lineup and will not have a complete lineup until winter sports are done,” Knight said. “But we should have a good season if the defense comes along as the year goes on.”

Johnson Knights

Coach: Tony Wilson

2008 record: 8-18, 5-17 Region 7-AAA

Key players: OF/P Nick Denard Sr. (.265 avg. 8 SB); SS/P Logan Pethel So. (.250); 2B/P Blake Stacey Jr.

Key losses: P/OF Will Rowlett (3.30 ERA, .333 avg.); OF David Jones (.480 avg., .586 OBP); P/SS Bobby Wirsing.

Outlook: With only three starters returning, the Knights will be looking to several newcomers in Wilson’s second year at the helm.

“We’ll be young,” Wilson said. “But I expect us to be competitive. We know we’ll make some mistakes, but our youth should give us some energy and help us overcome some of that inexperience.”

Denard and Pethel provide a solid base for the Knights, and the return of Stacey, who was injured much of last season will help. Taylor Whitemire, a sophomore who can play third and first also has some starting experience, as does Fletcher Whiting, a junior who provides pitching depth and can play in the outfield.

Wilson will also look for contributions from junior Ethan Loggins who will start at catcher, and a pair of freshmen.

Win Griffith has the ability to play all over the infield and should log valuable innings. Wilson’s son, Tray Wilson should man third base.

Lakeview Academy Lions

Coach: Deuce Roark

2008 record: 17-10, 14-4 Region 8-A

Key players: C/INF Brett Armour, Sr. (.430 avg., 4 HR, 38 RBI); C/INF Nick Saye, Sr. (4-year starter); INF Haughton Carswell, Sr. (.362 avg., 41 R, 13 SB); P/OF Tyler Ward, Sr. (3-year starter); P/INF Ralston Cash, Jr. (.511 avg., 10 HR, 44 RBI)

Key losses: None

Outlook: With Brett Armour and Ralston Cash, who led Lakeview in hitting last year, returning along with the entire pitching staff from last year’s state playoff team, Lakeview is again hoping to be one of the four representatives in the Class A state playoffs from Region 8-A.

The Lions were swept by Gordon Lee in the first round of the state playoffs in 2008.
Armour and Haughton Carswell received all-region honors with their play last year and will be key to the Lions success.

As will by the return of an offense that scored 9.7 runs last year.

The pitching staff will be led by Cash, Ward and sophomore Jacob Whitenton.

Lumpkin County Indians

Coach: Nick Jenkins

2008 record: 12-13, 10-11 Region 7-AAA

Key players: OF Chad Fulton So. (.431 avg. 15 SB); P/SS Devin Dunson Sr. (.377 avg., 6 HR); C/P Blake Sargent Jr. (.360 avg., 20 RBIs).

Key losses: P/DH James Davis (.362 avg., 5 HR); OF Graham Lytch (.400 avg., 10 RBIs); C/2B Sunny Pham (.310 avg., 3 HRs).

Outlook: Lumpkin County returns in 2009 with a veteran team and loads of varsity experience.

Five full-time starters are back, plus three more that saw substantial time in the starting lineup last year.

Dunson, a Kennesaw State signee, and Fulton return after leading the Indians’ offense in 2008.

Three of last year’s top four pitchers are also back, including Drew Uptegraph (3-3, 3.68 ERA) and Randy Otis (3-1, 2.77 ERA).

Jenkins, a Lumpkin County grad in his 17th year at the school, is also expecting big things from sophomore move-in Jonathan Whitehead and freshman Will Anderson. Jenkins calls Whitehead a “contact hitter with lots of power and great speed,” while Anderson is expected to see playing time at a variety of positions.

The return of three-year starter Daniel Abercrombie should also provide a boost for the Indians. Abercrombie, who was hurt most of last year, hit .375 through eight games.

North Hall Trojans

Coach: Trent Mongero

2008 record: 16-10, 13-9 Region 7-AAA

Key players: SS K.J. McAllister Jr. (.395 avg., 6 HR); OF Jackson Coker Jr. (.368 avg., 3 HR); OF Graham Duncan (28 stolen bases).

Key losses: OF Josh Haymore (.367 avg., 30 runs); P Josh Wright (7-3, 0.90 ERA).

Outlook: Mongero feels like the Trojans are going to be balanced with offense, defense and pitching this season. North Hall is still young this season, despite only graduating two players from 2008. Davis Partrick, a senior, is the leader of the Trojans pitching staff, having pitched in a number of key games last season. After that, Mongero is going to look at Chris Stevens, Ty Smith, Nathan Hewell, Martin Conley and Jacob Brewster to help make a complete pitching staff. “We do have a number of arms to look at, but all are unproven in Region 7-AAA,” Mongero said.

McAllister was an All-Area selection as a sophomore after leading North Hall at the plate and is a very strong middle infielder. Third baseman Trey Pinson and second baseman Nate Strong also all returning starters for North Hall in the infield. Center fielder Graham Duncan returns this season and is one of the fastest outfielders in the region. Blayne Gilmer also saw significant playing time last season and will battle for the starting spot in right field.

Partrick also plays in the outfield when not on the mound. Mark Fuller or Mason Savage will be catching this season for North Hall. “I think we’re solid on offense and defense with the big question mark being pitching,” Mongero added.

Riverside Military Eagles

Coach: Matt Gifford

2008 record: 5-13

Key players: C Patrick Wermert Jr. (.429 avg., 3 HR); 3B Will Huff Jr.; SS Brian Cox Jr.; CF Brian Kerekes Jr.

Key losses: 2B Toby McClure (.511 avg., 8 HR); OF Evan Hunt (.390 avg., 2 HR).

Outlook: Gifford’s goal for this season is to build a reputable program with Eagles in their first season playing in the GHSA. Riverside has 16 players on the field for the first time together and there was only three weeks from the start of practice and the start of the season for them to get to know each other.

“With one starter returning from last season, I would say that puts us at a slight disadvantage,” Gifford said. “Having said that, we’re going to get after it and give it everything we’ve got day in and day out.

“If we do that, we can be competitive with some of the teams in our region.”

Wermert is Riverside’s only returning starter. Wermert and Cox spent last summer playing in the East Cobb Baseball League. Gifford also speaks highly of Kerekes saying, “he’s one of the most natural outfielders I have seen in my coaching career.” Gifford seems confident with the defensive abilities of Huff and Cox on the left side of the infield.

The schedule starts out tough for the Eagles with two of their first four games against defending Region 8-A champion (now in 8-AA) Jefferson.

West Hall Spartans

Coach: Manny Pontonio

2008 record: 8-18, 6-16 Region 7-AAA

Key players: 2B Luis Delgado Sr.(.329 avg.); P/2B Scott Eichler Sr. (.355 avg.); OF Travis Clements Sr. (.300).

Key losses: OF Chan Morris (.373 avg.); UTL Matt Ginn.

Outlook: With only one major loss from last year’s team, West Hall enters the 2009 season with high hopes of rebounding from an eight-win season. Leading the Spartans this year is Delgado, a speedy lead-off hitter that has the ability to create havic once he reaches base. His range in the infield will also benefit West Hall, as the Spartans will need solid defensive play in order to keep games close.

Manny Mata and Scott Preston will anchor the Spartans’ pitching rotation, which will be without Brian Ernst, who is recovering from cancer. Ernst’s absence could provide the team with the motivation of playing the season in their teammate’s honor and althoght Ernst’s pitching will be missed, he’ll be in the minds of his peers each and every time they take the field.

With six players returning from last year’s squad, the Spartans will try to build on the veteran leadership and try to remain competitive in a tough region.

White County Warriors

Coach: John Brown

2008 record: 15-13, 13-9 Region 7-AAA

Key players: C/SS/P Kevin Frederick Sr. (.417 avg. 15 SB); 1B Travis Rutkiewicz Sr. (.400 avg., 26 RBIs); P David Sosebee So. (6-3, 2.85 ERA).

Key losses: OF Josh Ingram (.329 avg., 4 HR); OF Jesse Brown (.329 avg., 4 HR); P Brantley Gee (5-3, 2.22 ERA).

Outlook: The 2009 Warriors possess an intriguing blend of youth and experience — in some cases simultaneously.

Last year it carried them to the school’s first state playoff appearance in 18 years and a second straight winning season.

Six starters return from that team, including Frederick and Rutkiewicz, the team’s leading hitters last year.

Gee, a workhorse of the pitching staff last season is gone, but White County can turn to a bevy of young arms to fill the void. The sophomore quartet of Sosebee, Luke Crumley, Kyle Mills and Bo Medlock earned valuable playing last season as freshmen and will handle the bulk of the pitching duties this season. Sosebee led the team with six wins in 2008, and Crumley was on pace for a solid season before he was sidelined with mononucleosis.

Last year, Frederick led the team in batting average, hits, runs and stolen bases. Rutkiewicz led the team in RBIs.
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