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Prep baseball: Region's top two teams face off tonight
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They have eight returning starters off a team that went 21-7 in 2007 and are coming off an 18-2 rout of Johnson, their opponent returns seven starters from last year’s state playoff team and is coming off a 16-1 win over Chestatee in which they pounded out 14 hits.

Gainesville and Flowery Branch meet tonight in an early-season matchup of the top two teams in Region 7-AAA that will be one of two things, a hit parade or a display of stifling pitching.

"We are going to have to play our best game to compete," Flowery Branch coach Jimmy Lawler said. "To have a chance to get into the playoffs we have to beat Gainesville."

A powerhouse throughout the 1990s, the Red Elephants returned to form in 2007 winning their first region title in four years.

A good portion of the reason behind Gainesville’s resurgence last year and expected follow through this year was and is its pitching rotation, none of which had an ERA higher than 2.20 last season.

"We’re going to have to put the ball in play," Lawler said. "Their pitchers are tough. We can’t walk away from the play with our bats tucked between our tails."

Whether it’s Valdosta State signee Patrick Henry, who threw a no-hitter in his last outing, or Matt Kerul, a Marshall University signee, taking the mound; the competition will be formidable at the very least.

Both teams boast offenses that are, when hitting on all cylinders, demolishing. As was on display in both team’s last outings.

Gainesville senior Zach Bennett, in his team’s 18-2 win over Johnson, hit a school-record three home runs with University of Georgia signee Robbie Hefflinger adding a grand slam.

Flowery Branch’s warm-up to tonight’s showdown went almost as well.

The Falcons had 14 hits led by Brad Stone who went 3-for-3 and Greg Palmer who hit a three-run home run.

Whether it’s a showcase of top-tier batting or a strikeout-laden seven-inning showdown, this game should be well worth the price of admission.

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