Gainesville vs. Troup
When: Game 1 4 p.m. today, Game 2 to follow; If necessary, Game 3 3 p.m. Saturday
Where: Ivey-Watson Field, Gainesville
Coaches: Gainesville, Jeremy Kemp. Troup, Craig Garner
Records: Gainesville (22-4, No. 2 Region 8-AAA); Troup (17-9, No. 3 Region 6-AAA)
Key players: Gainesville, P/SS Stephen Mason Jr. (.476 avg., 49 runs; 6-2, 2.47 ERA); C Skyler Weber So. (.466 avg, 8 HR, 48 RBI); P/3B Hunter Anglin So. (7-0, 1.49 ERA). Troup, P/1B Brad Bartlett Sr; LF Eric Escobedo Sr; SS Garrett Cole Sr.
Outlook: Troup is a versatile team that can win in a number of ways, but it has the tendency to play small ball.
“They’re real aggressive on the basepaths,” Kemp said. “They play hit and run and bunt and run, and they’re a well-coached team.”
Troup comes from a tough Region 6-AAA that includes defending state champion Columbus. This is Garner’s 10th season at Troup, and this year marks the ninth time he’s led the Tigers to the state playoffs. During that run, the Tigers made the quarterfinals three years in a row (’05-’07) and last year advanced to the second round as a No. 2 seed.
Kemp is in his third season in charge at Gainesville. He’s guided the Red Elephants to the state playoffs for the second year in a row. Last year, they advanced to the quarterfinals as a No. 1 seed.
Though Gainesville has the home-field advantage, Troup will be familiar with Ivey-Watson. The Tigers drove to Gainesville on Thursday and had a 7 p.m. practice on the field. They stayed at a hotel for today’s series opener.
“I’m a big believer in giving my team the best opportunity to be competitive anyway I can,” Garner said. “I like to take batting practice and get out on the field so we can see how it plays. I always provide that opportunity to opponents, and thankfully coach Kemp was gracious enough to provide that opportunity to us.
“I’ve been turned down in the past, but (allowing the competition the opportunity) is just the right thing to do.”
North Hall at LaGrange
When: Game 1 4:30 p.m. today, Game 2 to follow; If necessary, Game 3 2 p.m. Saturday.
Coaches: North Hall, Trent Mongero; LaGrange, Donnie Branch.
Records: North Hall (21-5, No. 3 Region 8-AAA); LaGrange (13-11, No. 2 Region 6-AAA).
Key players: North Hall, RHP Chris Stevens Sr. (8-1, 3.19 ERA); IF Hamilton Harper Sr. (.423 avg., 7 HR, 32 RBIs); IF Whit Bowen Sr. (.410 avg.). LaGrange, RHP Jacob Boccucci Jr. (5-1, 2.00 ERA), CF Malcom Dowell Sr. (.360 avg., 18 SB, 20 RBIs); C John Wagner Sr. (.350 avg., 20 RBIs).
Outlook: The Trojans were in a battle the entire regular season for one of the top spots in Region 8-AAA against White County and Gainesville. However, a 2-1 loss to the Red Elephants the final week of the regular season sealed North Hall’s fate as the No. 3 seed, and sending the Trojans on the road for the playoffs.
North Hall is strong on the mound with the left-handed Preston Graham and right-handed Stevens. In that pivotal game against Gainesville, Stevens threw seven strong innings but took his only loss of the season. The Trojans also have a steady freshman at the top of the batting order with Andrew Smith batting .400 with four home runs and 24 RBIs.
“The fact that we are on the road does not matter,” Mongero said. “ It just adds to the uniqueness of the challenge we must overcome.”
Meanwhile, LaGrange played a challenging regular season and struggled early, but won its final six region games to secure home-field advantage. Early in the season, the Grangers defeated defending Class AAAA state champion Loganville behind right hander Brandon McCurry, who is now sidelined with injury. Also, LaGrange has been without starting shortstop DeShawn Todd much of the year, and he is questionable for this series.
Branch is impressed with reviews he’s heard of North Hall. He says the Trojans are similar to one of LaGrange’s cross-county rivals.
“North Hall is like a mirror image to Troup,” Branch said. “They are fundamentally sound, execute very well and compete hard.
“From what I’ve heard, they are detail-oriented and are going to be tough outs at the plate.”
Flowery Branch at Dunwoody
When: Game 1 4 p.m. today, Game 2 to follow; If necessary, Game 3 Saturday
Coaches: Flowery Branch, Scott Myers; Dunwoody, Chan English
Records: Flowery Branch (17-6, No. 3 Region 8-AAAA); Dunwoody (20-6, No. 2 Region 6-AAAA)
Key players: Flowery Branch, SS Logan Conley Jr. (.480 avg., .562 OBP); OF/P Chase Hulsey So. (3-1, 1.52 ERA; .395 avg., 2 HR); P Andrew Laur Jr. (6-1, 2.24 ERA). Dunwoody, P/3B Wes Bancroft Sr. (7-2, 1.36 ERA; .375 avg., 16 RBIs); C/DH Jared Martin Jr. (.382 avg. 19 RBIs); SS Zach Tonner Jr. (.366 avg., 12 SB).
Outlook: After suffering through a 5-20 campaign in 2010, the still-young Falcons have made big strides in Myers’ first year at the helm, even after moving up from Class AAA with only three seniors on the roster. After a one-year hiatus, they’re back in the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons.
Dunwoody is also no stranger to the postseason (sixth straight playoff appearances) and also moved up from Class AAA this season. Led by Bancroft, a preseason all-state selection by the Georgia Dugout Club, the Wildcats have won nine of their last 10 in dominating fashion, averaging 12.8 runs per game in their wins and yielding one.
While Bancroft leads the pitching staff in all significant statistical categories, the rest of the rotation has more than pulled its weight. Entering its final game of the regular season, Dunwoody had a team ERA of 2.46 with 156 strikeouts and only 50 walks in 148 innings pitched.
Offensively, the Wildcats led all DeKalb County schools with 216 runs through their first 25 games.
Despite those numbers, Myers is confident in his team’s ability to “compete with anybody as long as we don’t get caught up in trying to do too much. We just need to do what we do well and everything else will come.”
What the Falcons do well is get on base. Their season on-base percentage is .441, resulting in 208 runs scored. The top three hitters in the order — Brody Thomas, Jesse Brookshire and Conley — have set the table well for the rest of the Flowery Branch offense. The trio is hitting a combined .422 with 72 runs scored and 31 stolen bases in 31 attempts.
Buford vs. Fannin County
When: Game 1 4 p.m. today, Game 2 to follow; If necessary, Game 3 3 p.m. Saturday.
Coaches: Fannin County, David Dyer; Buford, Tony Wolfe.
Records: Fannin County (18-2, No. 4 Region 8-AA); Buford (21-3, No. 1 Region 6-AA).
Key players: Fannin County, LHP/OF Tyler McClure Sr.; DH/1B Ryan Bowers Sr.; 1B/RHP Ryan Nix Sr. Buford, RHP/SS Jake Burnette Sr. (4-0, 1.35 ERA); RHP/1B Josh Heddinger Sr. (6-0, 2.33 ERA); LHP/1B Troy Herterick Jr. (.477, 25 RBIs); OF/RHP Mason Gentry So. (.407, 26 RBIs, 8 HRs).
Outlook: After going undefeated in the regular season, the Rebels stumbled in the region tournament to earn a disappointing fourth seed. As a reward, they’ll have to deal with the third-ranked Wolves and their pair of Georgia Tech commits in Heddinger and Burnette.
Wolfe said that, although he didn’t know much about Fannin County, he knows enough about Dyer to know the Rebels will show up to play.
“They’re going to pitch well, they’re going to hit well, and they are going to come to compete and win,” Wolfe said. “So we are going to have to do the same."
While Buford has been led this season by strong pitching, the Wolves also sport some strong hitters in Herterick and Genry. The two have combined to lead Buford in every major offensive category.
White County vs. Carrollton
When: Game 1 4 p.m. today, Game 2 to follow; If necessary, Game 3 2 p.m. Saturday.
Coaches: White County, John Brown; Carrollton, Craig George.
Records: White County (21-4, No. 1 Region 8-AAA); Carrollton (11-14, No. 4 Region 6-AAA).
Key players: White County, P/3B David Sosebee Sr. (9-0, 0.51 ERA, 12.73 K/game; .385 avg., 7 HR); P/3B Luke Crumley Sr. (.391 avg., 11 HR, 28 RBI; 3-0, 12.54 K/game); SS Hayden Cummins Sr. (.422 avg., 8 HR, .767 slg). Carrollton, RHP Davis Marlar Jr.; P/1B Ty Fowlkes Sr.; OF DJ Johnson Jr.
Outlook: After capturing the program’s first region title, the Warriors enter the postseason hoping for another first: getting out of the first round.
“If we can find a way to win the first round, it’ll be a big boost for us,” Brown said.
Brown should be confident considering his team has two No. 1 starters in Sosebee and Crumley, a pair of Georgia signees. The senior right-handers, who are a combined 12-0 and average more than 12 strikeouts per game, are also the backbone of the offense, combining for 34 percent of the team’s 52 home runs and 28 percent of the RBIs.
“It makes it easy for me to coach,” Brown said of having the duo on his team.
Neither star pitcher took the mound when White County played Carrollton earlier this year. Brown started a freshman in the 14-13 win.
“They’re a pretty scrappy team,” he said. “You can scout all you want; we just have to execute and do the best we can.”
The Warriors have been doing that all year, averaging eight runs per game en route to a No. 1 seed. Their lineup is deep with offensive threats like Cummins, Kyle Mills, Adam Hooper, Bo Medlock, who are all hitting above .333.