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High school baseball previews
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High school baseball: Talent-rich Gainesville leads area into 2013 season.

Gainesville

Region: 8-AAAAA

Coach: Jeremy Kemp

Last year’s record: 32-2, 20-0 Region 8-AAA

Key players: OF/P Michael Gettys, Jr. (.389 avg., 9 HRs, 45 RBIs; 12-0, 2.04 ERA); C Skyler Weber, Sr. (.373 avg., 3 HR, 34 RBI); 3B Hunter Anglin, Sr. (.432 avg., 8 HRs, 41 RBI).

2013 Outlook: After a deep run in the postseason last year, the expectations are high for the Red Elephants. MaxPreps ranks Gainesville No. 66 nationally and it enters Class AAAAA ranked No. 2 in the state behind fellow Region 8-AAAAA member Loganville.

The reason for the high ranking is the experience back in all phases. Last season’s Times Baseball Player of the Year Michael Gettys will anchor the Red Elephants on the mound, along with Anglin (5-1, 47 K’s last season). University of Georgia signee Weber is back for his third season starting behind the plate. Gainesville also returns the left side of the infield with Anglin at third base and Sims Griffith at shortstop.

Designated hitter Caleb Whitenton has a year of experience under his belt after hitting .375 with 13 extra-base hits in 2012. The biggest pieces to replace for Gainesville are the starting pitching position held last season by David Gonzalez, who is now playing as a freshman at Georgia, along with Stephen Mason at second base and Ryan Griffith in the outfield.

Flowery Branch

Region: 8-AAAAA

Coach: Scott Myers

Last year’s record: 20-8, 14-4 in Region 8-AAAA

Key players: P Brad Keller, Sr. (6-2, 3.33 ERA, 40 K, 3 CG); SS Keltin Devoe, Sr. (.328 avg., 26 RBI, 11 2B, .400 OBP); OF/P Blake Turner; OF C.J. Navin.

2013 Outlook: Playing in a tough region that includes nationally-ranked powers Loganville and Gainesville, the Falcons will have a tougher road than ever to repeat last year’s 20-win season. Losing one of their most valuable players won’t help either, as 2012 Times All-Area First-Team selection and team MVP Chase Hulsey is out for the season with a torn labrum.

The Georgia Perimeter signee batted .410 in the leadoff spot last year, while winning six games with a 2.81 ERA. As a result, Flowery Branch will rely even more on Keller (Presbyterian signee) for pitching, and Devoe (Chattahoochee Valley signee), Turner and Navin (West Georgia Tech signee) for offense.

Myers is still on the lookout for additional help in the order, but says he has “four or five players” that were successful at the JV level and can make an immediate impact on the varsity roster.

Chestatee

Region: 8-AAAA

Coach: Kyle Counts

Last year’s record: 4-21, 1-18 Region 8-AAA

Key players: P/3B/C Tanner Gable, Jr. (was in starting rotation last season)

2013 Outlook: The War Eagles look to have a whole new look this season, as they lost six seniors off of last year’s team and enter this season with no returning seniors. The new look extends to the coaching staff, with Counts taking over for former coach Wes Gentry.

Counts played football in college and also served on the Chestatee football staff starting in 2008, in addition to being an assistant for the baseball team. Counts said the young squad is composed of about seven juniors and seven sophomores.

East Hall

Region: 7-AAA

Coach: Wesley Crow

Last year’s record: 8-17, 8-11 Region 8-AA North

Key players: SS/P Hunter Buffington, Jr. (.426 avg., 3 HR, 12 SB); P/DH Matthew Gee, Jr. (26 IP, 14 app.); 2B/P Caleb Holtzclaw, Jr. (.250 avg., 15 IP); OF Spencer Skelton, So. (.277 avg.); P Hunter Warwick, Sr. (3.21 ERA).

2013 Outlook: East Hall returns six of nine starters from a team, along with four seniors, that improved eight wins last season from 2011. Fifth-year coach Crow looks for this year’s strength to be in its pitching depth, led by Buffington and Warwick.

Utility player Caleb Kinsey and Winder-Barrow High transfer Jacob Cash also look to make an impact on the team this season. The Vikings, who moved up a level in classification this season, last reached the state tournament in 2003, falling one game short last season.

Johnson

Region: 8-AAAA

Coach: Tony Wilson

Last year’s record: 14-12, 8-10 Region 8-AAA

Key players: C/P Jordan Green, Jr.; Jackson Frazer, Jr.; IF/P Asher Griffith, So.; 3B Corey Collins, Jr.; 1B Chandler Cochran, Jr.; 2B Drew Mullinax, Sr.; OF Brandon Gailey, Sr.; SS/P Joel Munoz, So.

2013 Outlook: The Knights have ground to make up this season after losing six starters to graduation, three of which combined for 22 home runs, 86 runs and 82 RBI between A.J. Benefield (Abraham Baldwin College signee), Trae Wilson (Middle Georgia signee) and Chris White.

Regardless, Wilson expects his junior-heavy team to post another winning record this year and be in playoff contention despite moving up a classification. Green returns as one of Johnson’s bigger offensive threats after batting .250 and driving in 17 runs last year, and will also be called upon to pitch. Cochran, Mullinax, Gailey and Munoz are all newcomers in the Knights’ starting lineup this year.

Lakeview Academy

Region: 8-A

Coach: Deuce Roark

Last year’s record: 12-13, 9-11 Region 8-A

Key players: P/OF Dallas Deavers, Sr. (.347 avg.; 2-5, 4.36 ERA); SS/P Dakota Chalmers, So. (.246 avg., 14 RBI); P/3B Harrison Styles, So. (.292 avg., 17 RBI; 5-1, 3.78 ERA).

2013 Outlook: The Lions certainly have plenty of experience, with eight returning starters from a squad that finished in the middle of the pack in a very tough region last season. Roark believes that pitching will be the strength of his club with three experienced pitchers back in the fold.

Even though Lakeview Academy plays in probably the most grueling Class A region in the state, it is not required to grab one of the top four spots to get into the postseason. With the new power ratings the GHSA adopted in Class A, the Lions will be going after one of the top 16 spots from the regular season for the separate Class A private school playoff bracket.

North Hall

Region: 7-AAA

Coach: Trent Mongero

Last year’s record: 17-11, 13-6 Region 8-AAA

Key players: RHP Adam Kelly, Sr. (Georgia Southern recruit); 2B/P Zach Mize, Sr. (.393 batting average); 3B/P Griffin Olson, Sr. (.350 avg.); P/OF Preston Graham, Sr. (8-3); P/1B Colton Duttweiler, Sr. (2-0, 2.00 ERA); SS/P Andrew Smith (.422 avg.)

2013 Outlook: The senior-led Trojans graduated just four players (one pitcher) from last season’s team that reached the first round of the state playoffs.

This year the goal for seventh-year coach Mongero’s squad is to get back to state for the third consecutive season and make a deep run once they’re there. Like last season, the Trojans will likely be without two seniors for the early portion of the season in Kelly and Olson, both of whom are still playing basketball.

North Hall is playing a challenging schedule this season, including games against two Class AAAA, two AAAAA and one Class AAAAAA school.

Riverside Military

Region: 8-AA

Coach: Mike Hutch

Last year’s record: 14-12, 11-9 Region 8-A

Key players: P/2B Max Weiner, Sr.; SS Stephen Wechsler, Jr.; P/1B Collin Pettell, Jr.

2013 Outlook: Depth is an initial issue for the Eagles with only 14 players, including five returning lettermen. Hutch believes Riverside’s infield should be pretty solid with three starters back. The pitching rotation for the Eagles is an evolving group with sparse returning experience. Riverside graduated three seniors on the mound from last season.

In 2012, the Eagles were a challenger for the postseason in Region 8-A, especially with a string of four region wins in the middle of April, but were shut out with losses in the final three games. Riverside opens the season with two nonregion games against Glascock County on Saturday in Gainesville.

West Hall

Region: 7-AAA

Coach: Dustin Rennspies

Last year’s record: 7-16, 5-13 Region 8-AAA

Key players: P Zach English, Jr. (3 wins, 2.87 ERA, 40K, 39 1/3 IP); P/OF Chase Jarrard, Sr.; OF Cameron Johnson, Jr.

2013 Outlook: The Spartans make a coaching change for this season, bringing in Rennspies from Mosley High in Panama City, Fla., where he was an assistant coach. With 15 years of experience at the high school and collegiate level, Rennspies has seven returning starters to work with at West Hall, which hasn’t enjoyed a winning season since 2007.

He expects his lineup to be solid on contact and fast on the base paths, much like it was in 2012 when Times All-Area first-team selection Jake Shirley set a school record with 20 stolen bases. The Spartans’ main weakness is pitching depth, which doesn’t feature major experience beyond English’s three-win campaign last season.

Jarrard, a right hander, is expected to provide another arm on the mound while serving as one of West Hall’s top offensive threats.

Buford

Region: 7-AAA

Coach: Tony Wolfe

Last year’s record: 21-12, 13-2 Region 6-AA

Key players: 3B/P Josh Bryan, Sr. (.402 avg., 36 RBIs | 2-3, 3.50 ERA); SS/P Austin Upshaw, Jr. (.323 avg., 35 runs | 6-3, 2.21 ERA, 4 CG)

2013 Outlook: Even after losing their ace (Sam Clay) to graduation and moving up to Class AAA, Buford’s recent history and returning talent is enough to make them one of the preseason favorites in Region 7-AAA this season. Clay’s presence (1.29 ERA, 102 Ks, 65 IP) will be missed, but Bryan and Upshaw return and provide a solid foundation for this year’s team on the mound, as well as at the plate.

Between them, they logged 13 starts and pitched more than 74 innings last season, while driving in 50 runs and accounting for 67 hits. The Wolves will be trying to extend a three-year run of playoff berths, including a state championship in 2011 and a quarterfinals appearance last year.

Dawson County

Region: 7-AAA

Coach: Jimmy Pruett

Last year’s record: 12-12, 7-8 Region 8-AA

Key players: 3B/1B Hunter Wehunt, Sr.; C Colton Chester, Jr.; P/1B Logan Burt, Jr.; P Jeffery Partington, Sr.; OF David Chester, Sr.; OF Mitchell Putnam, Sr.; SS Levi Whitmire, So.

2013 Outlook: The Tigers, who moved up a classification this season, return eight of nine starters, not to mention loads of experience from last year’s team. Pruett said he feels the team has a good mixture of younger players as well to go along with the returners.

The experience on the team extends to the coaching staff and Pruett, who’s entering his 19th year as head coach of the Tigers last made the playoffs in 2009.

Lumpkin County

Region: 8-AAAA

Coach: Dustin Allen

Last year’s record: 11-14, 8-11 Region 8-AAA

Key players: P/1B Evan Gaddis, Sr. (4-0, 3.50 ERA | .359 avg, 18 RBIs); P/CF Freddie Beamon, Sr. (2-3, 4 saves, 2.30 ERA, 42 Ks, 23 IP); OF Mitchell Stephens, Sr. (.361 avg., 26 hits, 16 runs)

2013 Outlook: The Indians are stepping up in classification, but with seven returning players with varsity experience, their expectations are also on the rise a year after finishing in the middle of the Region 8-AAA pack. Lumpkin County must find a replacement for longtime standout Will Anderson, who graduated last season.

While his .465 batting average and 27 stolen bases will be missed, the Indians have a pair of experienced pitchers on whom they can rely.

Gaddis and Beamon will shoulder the bulk of the duties on the mound, and Gaddis is also an asset with his bat. Stephens is the leading returning hitter, while John Webber, Jacob Haskel, Daniel McCrary and Josh Nothdorft are back after gaining varsity experience last season.

Jefferson

Region: 8-AA

Coach: Tommy Knight

Last year’s record: 14-13, 10-8 Region 8-AA

Key players: P/SS Max Ford, Jr. (.315 avg., 4-5 record); OF Tyler Cole, Sr. (.213 avg., 19 RBI); OF/P Micah Carpenter, So. (.239 avg., 5-2 record).

2013 Outlook: Jefferson boosts a roster with considerable depth after making the first round of the postseason in Class AA last season. Carpenter will hold the No. 1 spot in the pitching rotation, according to Knight, an will be assisted by Ford, Jacob Page and Ethan Garner.

The middle of the hitting order is set with Cole and Hanon Price back. Trent Sorrells is moving to third base after starting at second last season. Satchel Turpin will start at first base after spot duty at third base and his regular role at third base last season.

The Dragons play in a region that should yield success for their traditionally strong program. The only other current member of Region 8-AA that made the postseason last year was Washington-Wilkes, then a Class A school.

White County

Region: 7-AAA

Coach: John Brown

Last year’s record: 13-13, 6-10 Region 8-AAA

Key players: 1B Brent Westmoreland, Sr. (.442 avg., .553 OPS, .649 slugging); P/SS Spencer Adams Jr. (1.04 ERA, 87 Ks, 67 IP); C Will Flowers, Jr. (.302 avg., .424 OBP).

2013 Outlook: After missing the playoffs for the first time since 2009 last year, the Warriors will hope to return to the postseason in the revamped Region 7-AAA. Brown expects competition to be stiff with Buford and North Hall as the projected frontrunners, but is also looking for improvement from his team, thanks in part to Adams’ right arm.

The 6-foot-4 junior is verbally committed to the University of Georgia after turning heads last season by allowing just 10 earned runs in 67 innings pitched. He also contributes at the plate, where he registered a .309 batting average as a sophomore.

The leader at the plate is expected to be Westmoreland, a Young Harris College signee who led the team in batting average, home runs, hits, RBIs and walks last season. Sophomore Stetson Gearrin will be called upon to step into a key role on the mound and play third base.

Banks County

Region: 7-AAA

Coach: Scott Frederick

Last year’s record: 12-12, 11-8 Region 8-AA

Key players: SS Billy Hudgins, Sr. (.301 avg); CF Tyler Hellmeister, Sr. (.384 avg.); 3B Tanner Thompson, Sr. (.283 avg.).

2013 Outlook: With only three returning starters, the Leopards feature a young lineup this season after reaching .500 in 2012. Pitching was the area hit hardest by the departures — Banks County has only 10 innings of experience among its rotation this year with the graduation of Taylor Foster (Wallace Community College, Dothan, Ala.) and Brenton Ruark (Toccoa Falls). It leaves Jacob Bullock as the only remaining pitcher with varsity time on the mound.

At the plate, Hellmeister leads the Leopards after hitting just under .400 a season ago, while Hudgins and Thompson return to round out the small senior class.

Frederick expects former JV players with travel baseball experience to fill out much of the roster as the Leopards make the jump into a tough Region 7-AAA.

Jackson County

Region: 8-AAA

Coach: Tommy Fountain

Last year’s record: 16-10, 11-8 Region 8-AA

Key players: SS/P Chase Dunlap, Sr. (.214 avg., 11 RBI, 5 SB); CF Nick Corso, Jr. (.284 avg., 9 RBI, 10 SB); LF/DH Andrew Fogarty, Jr. (.385 avg., 4 RBI); RF Ben Brissey, Jr. (.231 avg., 3 RBI)

2013 Outlook: The Panthers are starting over this season. After losing 11 seniors, including seven full-time starters, all starting pitchers and the team’s closer, Jackson County will rely on a strong freshman class to fill crucial roles. Fountain said that Joel Ellis (P/OF), Jase Latty (P/OF), Coleman Barbee (P) and Brett Bowen (IF) should see immediate playing time for the Panthers. Colby Cole returns behind the plate for this defensive Jackson County team.

Offensively, Fountain said hitting is progressing, and the team will count on Fogarty, Banks and Brissey to solidify the middle of the lineup. Transfer Chandler Malecki (Sr.) will also be a weapon offensively for the Panthers.

Habersham Central

Region: 7-AAAAAA

Coach: Chris Akridge

Last year’s record: 8-18, 4-13 Region 8-AAAA

Key players: P/INF/OF Dylan Dalton, Sr. (4-4, 3.70 ERA); P/INF Ryan Smith, Jr. (3.96 ERA, 53 Ks, 51 IP); OF Brandt Rhineheart, Sr. (.270 avg.)

2013 Outlook: The Raiders took some lumps last season with a young roster, as numerous members of the team were getting their first taste of varsity baseball. This year, with a more seasoned roster, Akridge believes his team can compete even after moving up to Class AAAAAA.

Akridge calls 7-AAAAAA one of the toughest regions in the state, but says his team has been working harder in the offseason than any team he’s coached. Dalton and Smith logged significant innings last season and will be the leaders on the mound again this year.

Rhineheart was a second-team all-region selection last year, and the Raiders will be looking for INF/P Patrick Taylor and OF Michael Long to make strides after earning starting positions last spring.

Commerce

Region: 8-A

Coach: Steve Cotrell

Last year’s record: 21-8

Key players: SS Keenan Lord, Jr. (.460 avg.); P Robert Hayes, Sr. (6-1 last season); OF/3B Drew Whitfield (.320 avg.); 2B Chandler Rodgers, So. (.400 avg.)

2013 Outlook: The Tigers lost five seniors from last year’s team, so they will be searching for younger players to step up and fill crucial roles. Commerce lost some of their heavy hitters from 2012, but Cotrell believes the pitching is stronger this season and can help make up the difference offensively.

The Tigers are still looking for the right combination and perfecting fundamentals, but Cotrell believes that Daniel Streetman will be in a second or third spot in the pitching rotation along with playing four to five freshmen in other places.

At this point in the year, the Tigers are focusing on developing young players, keeping people from getting on base, base running and overall discipline to keep games close as they progress.

Towns County

Region: 8-A

Coach: Chris Vardo

Last year’s record: 3-22

Key players: SS/P Dillon Diehl, Sr. (3.27 ERA, .428 avg.); 2B/P Harrison Hobbs, Jr. (.318 avg.); C Vonya Baldwin, Jr.; 1B Boone Moss, So.

2013 Outlook: The Indians are hoping to take advantage of the experience that many of their young players have after last year. Diehl and Hobbs will bring experience to the mound, while Baldwin will return to his place behind the plate where he has started since day one of his freshman season.

Towns County adds sophomore LF Zach Sewell to the outfield after a great showing in his freshman year at Spalding County.

He will play alongside Payton Chambers at center field and Slade Davenport at right field. The Indians’ strength this year is their depth in the infield, where they will start Cruz Shook at second base, Joseph Foster at third and rotate Diehl and Hobbs at shortstop.

Union County

Region: 8-AA

Coach: Brandon Bradburn

Last year’s record: 12-10, second in Region 8-AA North

Key players: SS Zach Odom, Sr. (.305 avg, 13 SB, 2 HR); 1B Wes Aulet, Jr. (.400 avg, 2 HR, 23 RBI)

2013 Outlook: The Panthers lost to Elbert County in the region tournament last season, but they return all but two players to this season’s team, including most of the hitting corps. The young players who were inexperienced on last year’s team now boast veteran status and can boost the team with a year under their belt. Odom and Aulet will be expected to lead Union County at the plate, and Lane Everett and Kalvin Duckworth will anchor the team on the mound.

Last season as sophomores, Everett and Duckworth tallied 71 strikeouts as starters, so the strength of this year’s team will be pitching depth since all pitchers are returning players.

Depth at all positions will be key to this year’s Union County team since the Panthers are playing a straight region schedule with no region tournament to determine a champion.

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