State quarterfinal previews
Gainesville vs. Starr’s Mill
When, where: 4 p.m. today with Game 2 starting 30 minutes after the first; Game 3, if necessary, is 5 p.m. Wednesday at Ivey-Watson Field.
Record, seeding: Gainesville, 24-6, No. 1 seed from Region 8-AAAAA; Starr’s Mill, 23-9, No. 2 seed from Region 4-AAAAA.
What to know: In the quarterfinals, the hot-hitting Red Elephants will face the stellar pitching staff of the Panthers. In Round 2, Gainesville picked up a two-game sweep against Sequoyah behind the seven-hit day by Sims Griffith, two home runs by Brandon Sewell and nice day at the plate by senior Michael Gettys. This round might get a little tighter. Starr’s Mill is paced by left-handed senior and University of Georgia signee Ryan Avidano (8-2, 1.20 ERA) and junior lefty Adam Goodman, who is verbally committed to Georgia. These two starters stand 6-foot-7 and 6-6 respectively.
“Starr’s Mill is a great team,” Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp said. “They have two good left-handed pitchers that are both humongous.”
Gainesville has swept both playoff rounds so far, including a first-round sweep of Tucker (12-1 and 7-4) two weeks ago. Starr’s Mill has been taken to three games in both playoff series’ so far. In Round 1, Starr’s Mill topped Evans in the deciding third game, while it took three games for the Panthers to beat Harris County, winning Game 3 of the second-round series 10-2 last Thursday.
“I think Gainesville has the most talented team in the state,” Starr’s Mill coach Brent Moseley said. “They have tremendous talent all over the field.”
What’s next: The winner plays the North Paulding/Houston County winner in the state semifinals on May 19.
Buford vs. Pike County
When, where: 4:30 p.m. today, Game 2 to follow 30 minutes later; Game 3 5:55 p.m. Wednesday, if necessary, in Buford
Record, seeding: Buford, 27-2, No. 1 Region 7-AAA; Pike County, 25-3, No. 1 seed Region 2-AAA.
What to know: No. 1 vs. No. 2 in Class AAA will meet today during the Round of 8. Buford has made it through the first two rounds needing just four games to win a pair of best-of-three series. The Wolves advanced past St. Pius X in the second round, winning 7-1 and 10-4 in Buford. Pike County, however, had to do it the hard way in the second round after dropping the opening game 7-6 against Southeast Bulloch, before winning the next two 12-2 and 5-2.
The first round was much easier for Pike County, beating Rockmart 9-3 and 12-2.
The core leaders for Buford heading into the third round of the postseason is the trio of undefeated junior starters. Game 1 starter Josh Higginbotham (7-0, 0.60 ERA) leads the way, while right-hander Kevin Coulter is 9-0 on the season. Also for the Wolves, Connor Bennett is 5-0 with a 0.71 ERA.
Pike County is led on the mound by right-hander Andy Marshall (6-1, 2.50 ERA), and at the plate by junior third baseman Tristin English (.480 avg., 4 HRs).
“We know Buford is a formidable opponent and we have a lot of respect for their program,” Pike County coach Don Hanson said.
What’s next: The winner plays the Callaway/Cartersville winner in the state semifinals on May 19.
Preparing for a late-round playoff series requires a little creativity on a coach's part.
With five days before the second round sweep of Sequoyah and the best-of-three quarterfinal series today against Starr’s Mill, Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp called for an intrasquad scrimmage last Friday to work out the kinks and give his pitchers some time on the bump to prepare for their third straight season in the third round of the postseason.
So far, the Red Elephants’ pitching staff has fared well in the postseason, but it’s never a good idea to let arms get too cold with a talented Starr’s Mill coming to Ivey-Watson Field for the Class AAAAA quarterfinal round today.
“Everyone was sharp for us when we were out there scrimmaging,” said Kemp, who said senior Michael Gettys will throw Game 1 at 4 p.m. today.
Caleb Whitenton and Sims Griffith have also thrown during the postseason for the Red Elephants, and could be called on to throw the second game, or in Game 3, if needed on Wednesday.
Having days off between series, such as Gainesville’s case, has plenty of advantages. Two-game sweeps allows for an extra day off between each series and gives more time for wary players to heal injuries, bumps and bruises that have accumulated during a long season. One such case, according to Kemp, was Griffith who was banged up after his seven-hit, second-round performance against Sequoyah.
“That many days off can be tough on them, but some of the guys needed some rest to get ready,” Kemp added.
Every team left standing this time of year, generally, is a state power on a yearly basis. Today’s doubleheader opponent, the Panthers, have played in the Elite 8 in five of the last 11 seasons, including a matchup in the state semifinals last season against Pope. Starr’s Mill has one of the most talented pitching duos around with lefties Ryan Avidano (8-2), a senior University of Georgia signee, and junior Adam Goodman, who is pledged to Georgia already.
The Panthers have been pushed to three games in both of their playoff series, including a Game 3 win against Harris County 10-2 last Thursday.
In Class AAA, No. 2 Buford (27-2) takes on top-ranked Pike County (25-3) at Gerald McQuaig Field starting with a doubleheader at 4:30 today. The Wolves are riding a pitching staff anchored by junior Josh Higginbotham, who is 7-0 and verbally pledged to Clemson University.
The Wolves have two other undefeated starters, including Connor Bennett (6-0) and Kevin Coulter (9-0). The Wolves are in the state quarterfinals for the third time since winning a Class AA state title in 2011. For Buford coach Tony Wolfe, part of the challenge has been giving his pitchers enough innings in the postseason to have everyone fresh to take the mound when needed.
“We have three good starters and have confidence in all three of them to get the job done,” said Wolfe, who is coaching against Pike County for the fourth time in postseason play since 2007.
Joey Bart (.512 avg., 48 RBI) and Austin Upshaw (.488 avg., 45 RBIs) are Buford’s leaders at the plate.
Pike County is paced pitching by right-hander Andy Marshall with a 6-1 mark and 2.50 ERA. The Pirates were stretched to three games, before eliminating Southeast Bulloch with a 5-2 win in the second round last week.