No region features more area schools than 8-AAA, home of Chestatee, Gainesville, Johnson, North Hall, West Hall, White County and Lumpkin County. And while 8-AAA is newly realigned with some schools unfamiliar with each other, teams will waste no time getting acquainted. Each team gets two non-8-AAA games before the remainder of its schedule turns into all-region, with teams playing each other twice.
“We don’t know much about the new teams,” said Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp, who led the Red Elephants to a Region 7-AAA title and trip to the state quarterfinals last season. “I don’t think there’s really a favorite. ... We just talk about getting better all year long like last season. Everyone has the same goal, but it can’t be accomplished until the last game of the season. So in the meantime, we’ll just work on getting better.”
The Red Elephants can’t improve on last year’s region record — they finished 19-0 — but will return solid young pitching headed by sophomore Hunter Anglin, who earned a Times All-Area Team selection as a freshman.
White County was the only other team of the new 8-AAA to qualify for last year’s Class AAA playoffs. The Warriors are anchored by Luke Crumley and David Sosebee, who are both committed to the University of Georgia.
“I think the first time through region is going to be a feel-out,” said North Hall coach Trent Mongero, whose Trojans finished 14-11 last year. “It’s going to be trial and error for a lot of teams, and everything (counts toward the region standings) from the get-go.”
The Trojans will field a promising young team with members from last year’s JV squad, which went 14-2 and won the Hall County Championship.
“The guys showed a lot of promise, but they’ll have to prove that at the varsity level,” Mongero said. “I think they will, but it’s going to be a matter of how quickly.”
Region 8-AA is another with a lot of area teams (six), including East Hall, Jefferson, Jackson County, Dawson County, Banks County and Union County.
East Hall will drop down a classification after a stint in AAA, playing in subregion “A” of 8-AA.
“I’m not real sure if dropping down works in our favor because this region has a lot of quality teams,” Vikings coach Wesley Crow said. “Oconee County (which reached the AAA semifinals last season), Jefferson and Union County — the competition is still solid, but I do think (moving down a classification) gives us an even competitive edge compared to AAA. I’m excited about the new group, and they’re excited to play again.”
The Vikings will look to improve upon an 8-18 campaign last season.
In subregion “B” of 8-AA, Jefferson will look to advance to the state playoffs for a sixth consecutive season.
“Oconee County is probably the favorite,” Dragons coach Tommy Knight said. “Hart County and Elbert County will be tough, and I think Jackson County is going to have a good team. I think the south is stronger than the north like in the other sports.”
Region 8-AAAA holds area schools Flowery Branch and Habersham Central. The Falcons begin a new era on two different levels — moving up a classification and playing under first-year coach Scott Myers, who takes over for Jimmy Lawler.
Myers is a first-time head coach after serving as an assistant on the Falcons coaching staff the past six seasons.
The Falcons finished 5-20 last season in 7-AAA.
“This is going to be an adjustment for everyone including the fans,” said Myers, who expects Loganville and Winder to be 8-AAAA’s top competition.
“I’m just going to try to implement some of the things coach Lawler did when he was here and won a couple of region titles and made the playoffs. I hope to continue his winning ways and get us back to where we need to be.”
In Region 8-A, Hall County schools Lakeview and Riverside Military will compete with area schools Commerce and Towns County.
“It’s going to be a hard-fought battle to get into the playoffs,” Lakeview coach Duece Roark said.
The Lions will bring back five seniors, including Times All-Area Second Team selection Taylor Simpson, who was 7-2 on the mound and batted .488 at the plate. They finished 15-9 last season.
“Those seniors are going to be the catalyst for our team,” Roark said. “They’re who we’ll rely on the most.”
Buford, the lone area school in Region 6-AA, is coming of a 20-9 season in which they advanced to the second round of the playoffs.
“The strength of our team will be pitching,” said Wolves coach Tony Wolfe of a rotation led by Times All-Area Second Team selection Josh Heddinger and Honorable Mention Jake Burnette, both of whom are Georgia Tech commitments. “Our top two gives us a great opportunity against any team we play.”