Coach: Dean Goodwin
Last year’s record: 14-12, 10-10 Region 8-AA
Key players: 3B Eli Autry, Sr. (.333, 2 HR, 18 RBIs); SS/C Brenton Ruark, Jr. (.353, 2 HR, 18 RBIs); P Seth McEntire, Sr. (6-2, 3.68 ERA, 51 Ks)
2011 Outlook: With a new coach, Banks County will be aiming for a stronger finish to the 2011 season after faltering down the stretch last year. In early April of last season, the Leopards were 11-5 and in position for a playoff berth, but fell short when they lost seven of their last 10. The Leopards are one of four teams in the new-look 8-AA North that posted a winning record in 2010. North Oconee, widely considered the region favorite, as well as defending champ Jefferson reside in the south subregion.
Coach: Tony Wolfe
Last year’s record: 20-9, 2nd round of Class AA playoffs
Key players: RHP/3B Josh Heddinger, Sr. (3-2, 51.3 IP, 83 Ks; .333, 3 HR); RHP/SS Jake Burnette, Sr. (3-1, 24.3 IP, 31 Ks, 3.16 ERA); C Jamie Ritchie, Sr. (.375, 2 HR, 17 RBIs).
2011 Outlook: The Wolves enter this season with high expectations, not only internally, but externally as well. Buford is ranked No. 4 in the gasports.com preseason coaches poll, and based on the fact that two of its pitchers — Burnette and Heddinger — are committed to Georgia Tech, there’s every reason to believe the Wolves will be one of the final teams standing in Class AA. The Wolves won’t just rely on their pitching, as Heddinger, Ritchie, Troy Herterick and Adam Hampton are all capable of putting up big numbers on offense. Wolfe also believes sophomore Mason Gentry and senior Brian Clark will have big offensive seasons. Buford’s main competition in Region 6-AA will be Lovett and Blessed Trinity, which won 25 and 24 games respectively last year.
Coach: Wes Gentry
Last year’s record: 13-13, 7-12 Region 7-AAA
Key players: P/SS Scott Chewning, Sr. (.346 avg., 10 SB, 30 runs); OF Corbin Smith, Sr. (.309 avg, 11 RBIs); OF Alex Moore, Sr. (.930 fielding); P Zack Sweet, Jr. (4-3).
2011 Outlook: The War Eagles are looking to step into the playoff discussion this season, taking the field with what Gentry calls “our strongest defense in the past few years.” While the War Eagles lost Times All-Area Honorable Mention shortstop Kevin Clifford (.329 avg., 24 RBIs, 18 runs) to graduation, they won’t skip a beat with Chewning, also an honorable mention, moving from second base to take Clifford’s spot. With the majority of their roster consisting of upperclassmen, the experience warrants heightened expectations.
Coach: Steve Cotrell
Last year’s record: 12-13, 12-4 Region 8-A, first round of state playoffs
Key players: OF Chase Barnett, Sr. (.404); 3B Cody Streetman, Jr. (.365, 28 RBIs); P Josh Swistak, Jr. (5-3, 2.02 ERA); P Colton Davis, Jr. (4-4, 54Ks)
2011 Outlook: Despite a strong finish last year when the Tigers won nine of their final 12 regular season games to finish third in the region, Commerce was outscored 26-2 in a two-game sweep by Landmark Christian in the opening round of the state playoffs. Commerce returns eight starters from that team, including five juniors, and Cotrell hopes the experience in the playoffs will be what his teams needs to topple defending region champion Hebron Christian. That task will be all the harder after losing 2010 All-Area Honorable Mentions pitcher Carl Allen and first baseman Greg Hayes to graduation.
Coach: Jimmy Pruett
Last year’s record: 13-12, 11-9 Region 8-AA
Key players: 1B/P Josh Harper, Sr. (.320, 4 HRs, 22 RBI); C/3B Kaleb Holbrook, Sr.; IF Jacob Anglin, Sr.; IF Luke Williamson, Sr. (.350 avg., 16 RBI, 5 SB); OF Tyler King, Sr.
2011 Outlook: Pruett feels like the Tigers will be sound this season offensively with the return of Harper and Williamson. However, pitching is a different matter. None of his pitchers this season have any varsity experience as a starter. Pruett is going to look at Harper, King, Tyler Thurmond, Jeffrey Partington and freshman Logan Burt to find his best combination. Last season, Dawson County finished one game out of qualifying for the playoffs. The Tigers last made the postseason in 2009.
Coach: Wesley Crow
Last season: 3-23, 2-17 Region 7-AAA
Key players: P/1B C.J. White, Jr. (.224 avg., 15 hits), IF/P Jonathan Woodring, Jr. (.235 avg., 12 hits), C Austin Tompkins, Jr. (.203 avg., 13 hits), IF/P Joseph Matt, Jr. (.266 avg., 17 hits).
2011 Outlook: Crow is still trying to line up a pitching staff that gives his team the best chance of winning. During Thursday’s scrimmage against Johnson, he tested seven pitchers hoping to gauge their capabilities. Among those, Frankie Hale, Hunter Buffington, Matt, Woodring and Ryan Duncan will all get a crack at taking to the mound during the season. At the plate, East Hall has to replace 2010 graduates Drew Adams (.528 avg.) and Greg Edwards (.373 avg.). The Vikings open the season with a home-and-away set of games against West Hall, starting in Oakwood on Tuesday.
Coach: Scott Myers
Last year’s record: 5-20, 5-14 Region 7-AAA
Key players: SS Logan Conley, Jr. (.330, HR, 14 RBIs); 1B Breck Davidson, Jr. (.285, HR, 15 RBIs); 3B Kyle Famiano, Sr. (.310, nine RBIs); CJ Navin (.250, 12 SB).
2011 Outlook: After suffering one of their worst seasons in program history, the Falcons enter 2011 in a new region with a new coach. Myers is taking over for longtime coach Jimmy Lawler, whose teams topped the 20-win plateau in 2008 and 2009. While Flowery Branch returns all its pitchers from last year, it’ll still be a young team that will have only one or two seniors on the field at the same time. On top of that, the Falcons will now play in Region 8-AAAA with talented teams like Winder-Barrow, Heritage and Loganville, which won the Class AAAA title in 2008.
Coach: Jeremy Kemp
Last year’s record: 28-5, Region 7-AAA champs (19-0), state quarterfinalist
Key players: 2B Will Maddox, Sr. (.487 avg., 55 runs, 10 HR, 52 RBIs, 13 SB); SS/P Stephen Mason, Jr. (.393 avg., 37 runs; 8-1, 2.76 ERA, 4 saves); 3B/P Hunter Anglin, So. (.378 avg., 7 HR, 29 RBIs; 10-2, 2.77 ERA); OF Michael Lorentz, Sr. (.370 avg., 4 HR, 22 RBIs, 21 SB); P David Gonzalez, Jr. (7-1, 3.38); P/UT Ryan Griffith, Jr. (.437 avg., 33 RBIs, 12 SB; 3-0, 3 saves).
2011 Outlook: A year after sweeping through 7-AAA with a perfect record last season, the Red Elephants appear poised to make a run at the new 8-AAA. While they lose Times All-Area selection Sloan Strickland and K.J. McAllister to graduation, they return fellow All-Area first-teamers Anglin and Maddox, a Tennessee signee. Young pitching is the strength of the team and could carry Gainesville through the season. Kemp calls his team “young, with a great nucleus coming back,” and said he and the Red Elephants are excited about the new season.
Coach: Chris Akridge
Last year’s record: 13-13, 9-11 Region 8-AAAA
Key players: CF Austin Tench, Sr. (.333 avg.); SS/P Austin Schmidt, Sr. (.320 avg., 1.40 ERA); C Taylor Stinespring, Sr. (.283 avg.); P Drew Stephens, Sr. (4.00 ERA)
2011 Outlook: The Raiders made strides in Akridge’s first season last year, doubling their win total from 2009. Now the goal is to get to the state playoffs for only the second time in the program’s history. “We had some success last year, but we’re not content being .500 overall and under .500 in the region,” Akridge said. Habersham will have the leadership of 10 seniors to lean on, but the pitching staff is a question mark as the top two from last year’s staff have graduated. To earn a spot in the 8-AAAA playoffs and compete for a postseason berth, teams must finish the regular season in the top three within their subregion. The top seeds will meet in the region championship series, while the No. 2 and 3 seeds battle for a spot in state.
Coach: Tommy Fountain
Last season: 13-12, 6-12 Region 8-AAA
Key players: SS/P Austin Robinson, Jr. (7-3; .365 23 RBIs); OF Quinn Grogan Jr. (.333, 25 RBIs); C/IF Trey Sorrells, Jr. (.300, 14 runs, 17 RBIs)
2011 Outlook: The Panthers will field an experienced team of 15 juniors and seniors this season, one year removed from finishing with a winning record for the first time in more than 10 years. Jackson County has improved its record each of the past three seasons and plan to continue that trend after moving down a classification to AA. The Panthers benefit in returning two All-Area honorable mentions from last season, Robinson and Grogan.
Coach: Tommy Knight
Last year’s record: 25-5, Region 8-AA champs, second round of state playoffs
Key players: P/1B Andrew Bartek, Jr. (.435, 5 HR, 21 RBIs); OF Jason Demos, Sr. (26 runs, 11 RBIs); INF/P Drew Carson, So. (.256, 5 HR, 23 RBIs)
2011 Outlook: After losing six starters and the overwhelming majority of their pitching staff, the Dragons will field their most inexperienced team in recent memory. Still, Knight said he feels good about his team in the long run if it can navigate its way through the early season. Realignment won’t make things easy on the Dragons, winners of four straight region titles. Knight expects five teams from 8B-AA to have legitimate shots at the subregion’s four places in the region tournament. Bartek, who pitched seven innings last season, is the only pitcher with varsity experience. He’s also the leading returner at the plate after earning an all-region nod last season as a designated hitter. He’ll be called upon to help fill the hole left by The Times 2010 Player of the Year Jake Fields, who graduated last year with 57 career home runs and a .561 career batting average.
Coach: Tony Wilson
Last year’s record: 12-14, 9-10 Region 7-AAA
Key players: SS Logan Pethel, Sr. (.459 avg., 4 HRs, 38 RBIs); 3B Trae Wilson, Jr. (.397 avg., 8 HRs, 32 RBIs); OF/P Chris White, Jr. (.342 avg., 23 RBIs, 12 SB); UT A.J. Benefield Sr. (.355 avg., 3 HRs, 31 RBIs).
2011 Outlook: Last season, the Knights doubled their win total from 2009, going 12-14 after finishing 6-20. Though they haven’t had a winning season since 2005 (14-13), they are bringing back their two most productive players from last year in Pethel and Wilson, both of whom earned The Times All-Area Second Team selections. Wilson said the team’s success will rely in the development of the pitching staff, which last season gave up an average of 12.3 runs a game in Knights losses last season.
Coach: Deuce Roark
Last season: 17-10, 9-5 Region 8-A, first round of state playoffs
Key players: OF Logan Jones, Sr. (.281 avg.); RHP/IF Taylor Simpson, Sr. (.481 avg., 29 RBI; 7-2, 3.45 ERA); RHP/IF Spencer Sorrells, Sr. (2-0; .258 avg., 17 runs); C Nick Drury, Sr. (.404 avg., 17 RBIs); OF/P Jacob Whitenton, Sr. (.483 avg.).
2011 Outlook: Last season, the Lions made their fourth consecutive trip to the Class A state playoffs, led by then senior Ralston Cash, a second-round draft pick last June by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Even though Cash is now gone, the Lions have plenty of experience back in the pitching rotation. “We have a great group of seniors coming back, who we hope can build off of last season,” said Roark who also singled out junior Derek Fadool and sophomores Ramsey Hill, Jarret Huge, Dallas Deavers, Austin Montgomery and Ted Reynolds as critical players for the Lions this year. “Our region is extremely competitive,” said Roark, “so we hope to gain some momentum and get better every game.”
Coach: Dustin Allen
Last year’s record: 11-15, 10-9 Region 7-AAA
Key players: SS Will Anderson, Jr. (.383, 15 SB, 20 RBIs); C Jonathon Whitehead, Sr. (.412, 13 SB, 23 RBIs); P Chase Grizzle, Sr. (5-3, 3.82 ERA); P Michael Rider, Jr. (3-4).
2011 Outlook: The Indians return seven starters — two seniors and five juniors — from a squad that finished 2010 by winning 10 of 14 but failed to make the state playoffs. With that returning experience, Allen hopes the team will be battle-ready earlier this season. It may need to be to earn a spot in the playoffs for what would be the third time in the past five seasons. Grizzle was a Times All-Area Honorable Mention in 2010 and is expected take the mound on opening day against new region foe Oconee County on March 2. On offense, Whitehead will have to step up to replace the loss of graduated senior and All-Area Team selection Chad Fulton, who hit .512 last season with an on-base percentage of .570.
Coach: Trent Mongero
Last year’s record: 14-12, 11-9 Region 7-AAA
Key players: P/1B Chris Stevens, Sr. (.441); INF Whit Bowen, Sr. (.305); P/OF Lee Sisson, Sr. (.301).
2011 Outlook: Stevens is the only player with extensive pitching experience at the varsity level, which means the Trojans will have to rely on a bevy of young arms if they hope to capture one of the four playoff spots from Region 8-AAA. Although inexperienced on the mound — Mongero said he’s going to have to find a way to “mature the young pitchers quickly” — North Hall should get a boost offensively with the additions of Hamilton Harper and Mason Savage, who were both injured last year. How well the young pitching staff develops, plus sound defensive play will be key if the Trojans hope to contend with teams like Gainesville, Stephens County, White County and Oconee County, which all enter the year considered by many as the teams to beat in the revamped region.
Coach: Darius Smiley
Last year’s record: 6-20, 3-17 Region 8-AA
Key players: SS/P Max Weiner, So. (.289, 11 RBIs); OF/1B Orlando Lynch, Sr. (.298, 17 RBIs, 12 runs); P/2B Jacob Harrison, Jr. (transfer student)
2011 Outlook: Though a lack of depth in the pitching staff gives Smiley reason for concern, the coach said he’s excited about the Eagles’ prospects as they join Region 8-A. Smiley said his team relishes its role as the new kid on the block, and set its goal to surprise some teams and be in the mix with defending champion Hebron Christian and other playoff contenders like Lakeview, Commerce, George Walton and Athens Academy. Harrison, who comes from Dacula, and junior Alex Ruppenthal are the Eagles’ only pitchers with varsity experience. Last year’s leading hitters, Brian Cox and Brian Kerekes, must also be replaced.
Coach: Chris Vardo
Last year’s record: 9-16, 4-11 Region 8-A
Key players: OF Brett Bradshaw, Sr.; SS Alan Turpin, Sr.; 1B Kyle McConnell, Sr.; 2B Billy Meier, Sr.; P Taylor Denton, Sr.
2011 Outlook: The Indians return seven seniors this season, and they will need that experience to compete in a region in which they were outscored by more than six runs per game in 2010. This is Vardo’s first season at the helm in Hiawassee after serving as an assistant for the past four years.
Coach: C.T. Hussion
Last year’s record: 19-9, 14-6 Region 8-AA, first round of state playoffs
Key players: C/P Dalton Everett, Sr. (.375, 6 HR, 31 RBIs); SS/2B Zach Odom, So. (.365, 4 HR, 22 RBIs, 0 errors); 1B/P Brock Gordon (25 1/3 IP, 27 Ks, 3.98 ERA).
2011 Outlook: The field they play on might be new, but this year’s group of Panthers are anything but inexperienced. Union County returns 10 seniors and eight starters from last year’s state playoff team, and combined with some talented newcomers, the Panthers feel poised to challenge for the Region 8-AA crown. Coleman Sullivan and Trey Thomas will play an integral role in the Panthers’ success this year, but Everett and Odom (both Times’ All-Area Team selections last year) will be the key cogs in a lineup that averaged seven runs per game in 2010. Union County will christen its new field, which was recently named the 2010 Georgia Dugout Club Field of the Year, against Lakeview Academy on Saturday.
Coach: Pete Allen
Last season: 5-20, 4-15 Region 7-AAA
Key players: LHP/OF Jake Shirley, Jr. (.343 avg., 22 runs); 1B Ethan Stewart, Sr. (.314 avg., 2 HRs); 2B Cody Simpson, Jr. (.276 avg.); C Taylor Waggoner, Jr.
2011 Outlook: Allen has some depth in the pitching rotation this season with right handers Chase Jarrard and Austin Haynes, and left hander Jake Shirley. Depth is a must in Region 8-AAA with 24 consecutive region games on the schedule. “I just want my pitchers to go out there and throw strikes,” Allen said. “That’s all I ask from them. I’m not asking them to go out and throw seven shutout innings.” At the plate, Allen feels like the Spartans have 10-12 players that will be able to contribute. His main offensive weapons are Shirley, Stewart and Waggoner. “Region 8-AAA is brutal,” Allen said. “It’s like a marathon; you just have to go out there and try and outlast the rest of the teams.”
Coach: John Brown
Last year’s record: 19-8, 14-5 Region 7-AAA, first round of state playoffs
Key players: P/3B David Sosebee, Sr. (7-1, 0.76 ERA; .450 avg, 14 RBIs); P/3B Luke Crumley, Sr. (.416 avg., 10 HR, 41 RBIs; 5-3, 2.98 ERA); 1B Adam Hooper, Sr. (.312 avg., 21 RBIs); SS Haydin Cummins, Sr. (.333 avg., 3 HR, 16 RBIs).
2011 Outlook: The Warriors return two Times All-Area Team members and Georgia signees in Sosebee and Crumley, but Brown said the team “must work hard to do better than last year.” Brown is relying contributions from players such as Bo Medlock, Dylan Lee and Kyle Mills to push the team to a more satisfying 2011 after a first-round exit in last season’s playoffs. How well and quickly those Warriors adjust in new roles in the every day lineup will determine the key to White County’s success, Brown believes. “If everything comes together, this team could be very good,” Brown said.