Preston Graham and Colton Duttweiler are looking to play together one last time before heading off to different colleges. Both of the left-handed pitchers who helped North Hall advance all the way to the Class AAA baseball state finals will represent Team Georgia in the upcoming Heartland Baseball Classic.
Games will be played at three different host sites in Norman, Okla.
“We’re really good friends and really excited to know what all we accomplished this season and get to play together one more time,” said Graham, who finished his senior season with a 12-3 record and 1.49 ERA. “It’s going to be awesome to play against top-level competition and represent the state and hopefully go win a title.”
Graham, who is signed with Piedmont College, and Duttweiler, who is headed to West Georgia, both got the invitation to join Team Georgia shortly after losing in the state championship series. For the trip to play in the showcase, and long bus ride to the city just south of Oklahoma City, they’ll travel with 18 other top college signees for the six-day event with games against teams from host Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Colorado, Maryland and Ohio.
Also representing Team Georgia are University of Georgia signees pitcher Drew Moody (LaGrange High) and second baseman Kyle Hall (Loganville), Georgia Southern signee Cal Baker, a shortstop, and Coastal Carolina signee Chase Adkins, a right-handed pitcher out of Hillgrove High, among others.
“At the Heartland Classic, you see the best of the best,” said Team Georgia coach Jonathan Gastley, who also coaches at Mary Persons High in Forsyth. “Every pitcher there throws 88-94 miles an hour and good pitch selection.
“It’s a great experience for the kids to play against other teams with Division-I caliber players.”
Gastley, who will be joined in that role by a staff of three assistant coaches, said that the selection process to fill the roster relies heavily on the coach’s recommendation. He said that North Hall coach Trent Mongero spoke highly of Graham and Duttweiler, and their experience playing deep in the playoffs also helped them make the cut.
“We want to take the kids that not only have good stats, but also are high-character kids,” Gastley said.
“We pick kids that are going to represent the state and the school they come from well out in Oklahoma.”
The trip takes on added meaning for Graham, who will be able to visit with his grandfather, David Spivey, who lives in Oklahoma City. He said it will be his first trip to Oklahoma.
Duttweiler, who was 11-2 this season with a team-best 1.20 ERA, says the trip to Oklahoma is a nice turning point after the disappointing end to his high school career. He spent Thursday hitting in the North Hall batting cage, getting prepared for the big trip and his final time on the same team with his high school friend.
Duttweiler would like nothing more to come home with they equate to a national title.
“It’s a real big deal to be able to represent the state out in Oklahoma,” said Duttweiler, who hit .431 with 40 RBIs as a senior.
The Heartland Classic is known for picking kids from Hall County. On the roster in 2012 were North Hall’s Jesse Strickland, as well as Gainesville’s Stephen Mason and Ryan Griffith.
Games for the Heartland Classic are divided between Southmoore High, Norman High and Norman North High.
The opening ceremonies on June 17 are at Southmoore High, just five miles from the town of Moore, Okla., which was ravaged by an EF-5 tornado on May 20.
Gastley said teams have been encouraged to bring items unique to their home state to sell in a silent auction to raise money for relief efforts. When they arrive in Oklahoma, Gastley said they will also look into doing a community service project, time permitting.
Also in Oklahoma, the Junior Sunbelt Classic is currently taking place in McAlester, Okla. Coaching Team Georgia are former Gainesville High coach and current athletic director Wayne Vickery, Mongero and Jefferson’s Tommy Knight. Local players for Team Georgia are Gainesville’s Chandler Newton, as well as Jefferson’s Max Ford and Jake Franklin.