No subregions. No postseason region tournaments. There’s only one way to reach the baseball state playoffs from Region 7-AAA: at the end of the 22-game region grind you’ve got to be one of the four best teams.
So all those things coaches love to say about the most important game of the year being the next one — in this case, it’s true.
All 12 of 7-AAA’s teams begin region play Wednesday, about two weeks removed from opening day. That’s barely enough time to break in a new mitt, but it’s all they’ve got. From here on out, the games count.
Flowery Branch, one the region’s preseason favorites, is probably itching to get going. The Falcons (4-0) haven’t shown any rust, springing from the gates with four straight wins, including two shutouts, making them the only member of 7-AAA still unblemished. They’ll face Chestatee (1-1) on Wednesday. The War Eagles finished last in the league in 2007, but are looking for improvement under first-year coach Wes Gentry. To get it, they’ll need big production from underclassmen as only two starters return from last year’s team.
As expected, pitching has been a strength for Flowery Branch. They’ve already gotten a no-hitter from Patrick Henry and have surrendered just five runs thus far. With a showdown against Gainesville looming on Friday, it’ll be interesting to see how the Falcons approach this game from a pitching standpoint. Either way they should be fine. If coach Jimmy Lawler chooses to save Henry for the Red Elephants, he can trot out Matt Kreul, his 6-foot-5 lefty who’s already committed to Marshall University.
As for the Red Elephants (1-3), they’re not off to a start befitting of a defending region champ that’s returning eight starters, but they’ve still got the deepest pitching staff in the region and those three losses won’t hurt them if they can get it together, starting Wednesday.
Standing in their way is Johnson (3-1), which has battled its way to three wins by a combined four runs. And the Knights’ only loss? A 3-2 defeat to Franklin County. Playing in those kinds of games, while not doing any favors for new coach Tony Wilson’s heart health, should serve them well as the season wears on. Will Rowlett has been a standout thus far, earning a win and a save on the mound, while going 7-for-16 at the plate.
The North Hall-Lumpkin County game is another intriguing early season matchup. North Hall won the region in 2006 and finished second last season, but the core of those teams is gone. They’ve lost two D-I pitchers and only three starters are back, but that hasn’t slowed the Trojans (3-1) so far. Fresh off a 2-1 thriller over Buford on Monday, expect the Trojans to be a confident bunch.
The visiting Indians (2-1) were the surprise of the region last season, reeling off eight straight wins after dropping their first four. They’ve also lost their top two pitchers, but there’s plenty of experience on the roster and they should be plenty motivated to avoid another 0-4 start.
East Hall looks like it could be this year’s upstart. The Vikings (1-2) have been tested early and have absorbed losses to Stephens County (Class AAA No. 8) and Parkview (Class AAAAA No. 2), so they’ve already seen talent at least on par with what they’ll face the rest of the way. Coach John Hardison has loads of experience on the roster, including eight returning starters and six pitchers. Keep an eye on the Vikings. They’ll travel to Pickens (0-3) Wednesday and should be 1-0 in region play when they play host to Johnson on Friday.
Other games Wednesday:
White County at Gilmer: The Bobcats (2-1) are expected to contend for a playoff spot. The Warriors (2-2) can prove they belong in the discussion with a win today. Watch White County’s bats. The Warriors have scored 43 runs through four games; can they keep it up against 7-AAA competition?
West Forsyth at West Hall: The Spartans (1-3) have dropped three straight since opening the season with a win over Mount Pisgah, while West Forsyth (1-2) has dropped a pair of close ones to Dawson County after drumming East Jackson in the season opener. West Hall has got to rein in opponents’ scoring if it’s going to be a successful year. The Spartans have given up a combined 30 runs in their last two games. Picking up a win over the region newbies would be a big lift.