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Prep baseball: Jefferson ready to roar
Jefferson pitcher Chris Beck delivers a pitch during last year’s state baseball playoffs. Beck is expected to be the Game 1 starter as the Dragons begin their quarterfinal series at Pacelli today. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times
Jefferson coach Tommy Knight had one message for his team after its 13-3 series-clinching win against Eagle’s Landing on Friday: Enjoy it, but move on.

"It was a big win, but it was just a stepping stone," Knight said of the win that advanced the Dragons to the Class A state baseball quarterfinals for the second consecutive year.

"It’s almost like a sigh of relief that we got by (Eagle’s Landing)," added Knight, referring to the fact that his team avenged its 2007 semifinal loss to the Chargers. "But now we have to move on and focus on the next series."

That begins at 4 p.m. today in Columbus, where the third-ranked Dragons (22-5) take on the tenth-ranked Pacelli Vikings, the No. 1 seed from Region 4-A.

With the schools separated by more than 150 miles, Jefferson’s coach knows little about his quarterfinal opponent.

"All I know is they have a couple of good pitchers and that they are not going to beat themselves," Knight said of the Vikings, winners of 23 of their last 24.

After watching Game 3 of the Jefferson/Eagle’s Landing series from the stands, first-year Pacelli coach Chris Leak is a little more familiar with the Dragons.

"I think they are a lot like us," said Leak, whose team reached the postseason for the 10th consecutive year this season. "They are very smart offensively and are sound defensively."

While similar at the plate and in the field, Leak believes that Jefferson has one major advantage on the pitcher’s mound, especially in junior right hander Chris Beck (9-0, 1.55 ERA).

"Beck is virtually unhittable," Leak said. "He might be the best pitcher in Class A in the state of Georgia.

"We’re going to have to find a way to compete with Beck and I’m not sure we can."

Leak and the Vikings will find out early whether or not they can get to Beck — he’ll be the Game 1 starter for the Dragons. Left-hander Cameron Blinn, who Leak said "may be more dangerous than Beck," will pitch Game 2 for Jefferson.

"Just a gut feeling," Knight said of the reasoning behind set his pitching rotation. "There’s no reason for a lot of the things I do."

Leak said that he is unsure of who will take the mound for Pacelli in today’s games, but he did state that his plan is to force a Game 3.

"I think that Jefferson has a clear-cut order of its No. 1, 2 and 3 pitchers," Leak said. "We don’t have that, we have three No. 2’s."

Those pitchers are Michael O’Neal (8-1, 2.20 ERA), Charles Rossi (8-2, 2.75) and Stuart Wilkerson (5-0, 3.00). Wilkerson also leads the Vikings at the plate with a .590 batting average.

"We don’t have power pitchers, we just have guys that pitch well," Leak added.

The Chargers’ pitchers will especially have to live up to their reputations against a prolific Jefferson lineup, which enters today’s games averaging 10.8 runs per game during the playoffs.

"We’re going to score some runs even off good pitching," Knight said.

Despite playing on the road for the first time in the playoffs this year, the three-hour trip to Pacelli may actually benefit the Dragons. Pacelli’s field measures 300-feet down both lines, and 350-feet to center field

"Frankly, I think our ballpark suits them better," said Leak, who calls the field a definite hitter’s park. "Jefferson hits the ball in the air, and some mistake pitches may be outs in bigger parks. Here they will be definite home runs."

That spells good news for Jefferson, especially sophomore Jake Fields (.598 avg, 18 HRs, 52 RBIs), who hit two home runs in the series-clinching win against Eagle’s Landing on Friday, tying him with Tyler Murphy for the most home runs hit in a single season at Jefferson High.

With a reliably potent offense, Knight knows that winning this series will come down to Dragons’ performance on the mound and in the field.

"When you get this far in the playoffs it’s all about pitching and defense," Knight said. "If we do that, we’ll be fine. Especially having a team that hits it like we hit it."

Leak feels that it will take more than just good pitching to beat the Dragons.

"If we’re going to beat them, we’re going to have to pitch better than they hit and hit better then they pitch," Leak said. "We’re going to have to do what we’ve been doing and play the best we can.

"We’re definitely going to have to bring our A game."