No. 2 Gainesville vs. No. 3 Dalton, 4 p.m.
No. 3 Flowery Branch at No. 2 Riverwood, 3 p.m.
No. 2 Buford vs. No. 3 North Springs, 5 p.m.
No. 3 Jefferson at No. 2 Heritage Catoosa, 4:30 p.m.
No. 3 Chestatee at No. 2 LaGrange, 4:30 p.m.
No. 4 West Hall at No. 1 Troup
No. 3 North Hall at No. 2 Pace Academy, 5 p.m.
No. 2 Dawson County vs. Lovett, 5 p.m.
No. 3 Banks County at No. 2 Hapeville Charter, 5:30 p.m.
First-round tickets are $10 per GHSA
Just one year into the job, and Jon Brewer has the Chestatee War Eagles playoff bound for the first time in school history.
The War Eagles are in their first-ever state tournament as first-round games start today. They also join a host of area teams that begin their postseason journeys away from home soil, with North Hall, West Hall, Flowery Branch, Banks County and Jefferson all playing doubleheaders on the road.
As for Gainesville, Buford and Dawson County, they are the fortunate few to stay within their own confines today.
Brewer doesn’t mind being considered the underdog one bit. He doesn’t think starting on the road isn’t a disadvantage.
“I just think there’s good baseball all around our area, and in the Gwinnett area,” Brewer said. “The kids are just getting better and better because they’re able to play year-round.”
The first-year Chestatee coach, who comes from a Rockdale County program that made the playoffs as a No. 1 seed last year, said the real pressure in hosting the first round doesn’t even occur on the field, rather the steps made before the fact.
“It’s a lot of pressure hosting the first round of the playoffs.” Brewer said. “Getting the field ready, getting the news around the school, getting the umpires ready. All of that can distract from the baseball game, as opposed to getting on the road, getting on the bus and just showing up to play.”
Trent Mongero had to really ponder the last time North Hall (19-10) has spent the first round of the playoffs on the road — seven years being the magic number according to the longtime Trojans skipper.
Regardless, Mongero sees his North Hall program as a road-tested bunch, and looks forward to the challenge as it plays for what would be a staggering seventh-straight trip to the Sweet 16.
It will be the eighth-straight year the Red Elephants (21-7) have started the playoffs at Ivey-Watson Field when they host Dalton in a first-round best-of-three series. But for a Gainesville program well known for going deep in the playoffs already, a win most likely translates into a six-hour trek to Brunswick the following week — assuming Glynn Academy wins its first-round series.
The road ahead for some could be a grueling trek as well with five area teams facing state-ranked opponents in the first round.
The No. 3-seeded Trojans understand the stakes as they square off against Pace Academy, a matchup which normally merits second or third-round standing according to Mongero.
No pressure, right?
“They lead all of 3A and the state in scoring. They’re very well coached, fundamentally sound, and we’re expecting a dogfight,” Mongero said. “Because both of our regions are so strong in baseball, it’s rather unfortunate that we’re all being paired up so quickly in the first round.
“It’s going to be an early exit for somebody, and we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure it’s not us.”
The third-seed War Eagles (13-17) join fourth-seed West Hall in the Class 4A bracket, both facing state-ranked squads as well. Chestatee will have to go through perennial power LaGrange in order to prolong this feel-good campaign. The Grangers of the Region 5, ranked No. 5 as per Georgia Dugout Preview, fell to Gainesville in the Sweet 16 last season.
Brewer indicated there is still some excitement in seeing where they stack up.
“They’re definitely worthy of that ranking, and how good they are,” Brewer said of LaGrange. “We’ve got a lot of scouting reports on them, and we worked hard this week at really trying to know what each individual kid they have, what their tendencies are,” Brewer added.
Meanwhile, the Spartans (11-14) get the Troup Tigers, who sit at No. 2 in the latest Class 5A poll. The Tigers ascended to the top of the Region 5 with wins over LaGrange and Cartersville late in the regular season.
In Class 5A, the eighth-ranked Buford Wolves (17-12), despite closing out the regular season with losses in three of its final four games, open as the No. 2 seed and welcome in North Springs for the first round.
Jefferson (16-12), Flowery Branch (16-11) and Banks County (13-15) enter the state playoffs as 3 seeds, as well. The Falcons, coached by first-year skipper Heath Kennedy, are in the playoffs for the first time since 2014, and riding a five-game win streak into Atlanta for a first-round clash with Riverwood.
The Dragons (16-12) look to reach the Sweet 16 for the third-straight season when they play No. 2 seed Heritage-Catoosa.