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Prep baseball: State Playoff previews
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Banks County vs. Holy Innocents

When: Game 1, 2:30 p.m. today, Game 2 5:30 p.m.; If necessary, Game 3, 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: Atlanta

Coaches: Banks County, Joe Lord. Holy Innocents, Dylan Deal

Records: Banks County (16-9, No. 3 Region 8-AA); Holy Innocents (21-4, No. 2 Region 6-AA)

Key players: Banks County, P/OF Alex Gailey Sr. (.354 avg., 7 HR, 14 SB); C/1B Zack Dale Jr. (.378 avg., 7 HR, 33 RBIs); OF Justin Gibbs Jr. (.407 avg., 4 HR, 23 RBIs). Holy Innocents, P/1B/OF Mark Grimm Sr. (.446 avg., 2.98 ERA, 62 Ks); P Kevin Kyle Jr. (6-2, 3.42 ERA); 2B Daniel Blaustein Sr. (.443 avg., 27 RBIs, 31 runs)

Outlook: When your team’s last playoff appearance came seven years ago, the last thing you want in your return to the postseason is to face the defending state champion in the first round. But that’s precisely the challenge facing Banks County.

Coach Joe Lord said his team realizes what it’ll be facing when it travels to take on third-ranked Holy Innocents today, but the Leopards are undaunted.

“We’ll have our work cut out for us,” Lord said. “We feel good about our chances and our direction, though. We’re excited about going out there and being a part of the state tournament.”

The Bears are back in the playoffs for the third straight season after reaching the semifinals in 2006 and steamrolling their way to the 2007 state title. They lost only once in last year’s state tournament and seemed poised for a repeat performance this season before stumbling down the stretch and losing three of their last six.

Banks County enters winning four of its last five.

Lord said he’s gotten solid production throughout the lineup this season and the Leopards boast a .332 team batting average while scoring eight runs per game.

Holy Innocents is led by a pair of southpaw starting pitchers (Grimm and Kyle) and an opportunistic offense that has stolen 69 bases in 74 attempts and is hitting .381 as a team.

Flowery Branch vs. Riverwood

When: Game 1, 3:30 p.m. today, Game 2 to follow 30 minutes after Game 1; If necessary, Game 3, 3 p.m. Saturday

Where: Hog Mountain Sports Complex, Flowery Branch

Coaches: Flowery Branch, Jimmy Lawler; Riverwood, Mike Santoro

Records: Flowery Branch (24-2, No. 1 Region 7-AAA); Riverwood (17-8, No. 4 Region 5-AAA)

Key players: Flowery Branch, P/SS Patrick Henry Sr. (.581 avg., 9 HR, 45 RBI); SS/2B Danny Price Sr. (.492 avg., 19 RBI); C Bucky Free Jr. Riverwood, 1B Michael Abrahams Sr. (.390 avg.); SS Chris Nault Jr. (.310 avg.); C Kelly Woodruff Jr. (.310 avg.).

Outlook: Class AAA’s top-ranked Flowery Branch is going to throw an impressive pair of starters out on the mound against Riverwood in today’s doubleheader. Lawler says senior and Valdosta State signee Patrick Henry (10-0, 1.94 ERA) will pitch Game 1 and senior right-hander Cody Ackerman (6-1) will take the mound in Game 2.

“I feel good about our chances when we have Patrick and Cody on the mound,” Lawler said.
If Game 3 is necessary, Mason Roberts will pitch for Flowery Branch.

The Falcons enter the playoffs on a roll, winning 16 straight region games. Flowery Branch secured the Region 7-AAA title with a win in eight innings against Lumpkin County last Friday night.

Riverwood qualified for the playoffs winning 11 of its last 13 games.

Left-hander Scott Sternstein, a senior, and right-handed junior Ian Shaw will start today’s games for the Raiders.

“We’re going to have to play out of our shoes to win this series,” Santoro said. “It’s not an accident that Flowery Branch is ranked No. 1 in the state.”

This marks Riverwood’s fourth consecutive trip to the state playoffs.

The Raiders visited Flowery Branch in the first round of the state playoffs in 2005.

The winner of this series advances to face the Stephens County (20-5)/Sandy Creek (18-8) winner Wednesday night.

Gainesville vs. Westminster

When: Game 1, 3:30 p.m. today, Game 2, to follow; If necessary, Game 3, 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: Ivey-Watson Park, Gainesville

Coaches: Gainesville, Wayne Vickery. Westminster, Jim Jefferson

Records: Gainesville (20-6, No. 2 Region 7-AAA); Westminster (18-4, No. 3 Region 5-AAA)

Key players: Gainesville, P/DH Zach Bennett Sr. (.510 avg., 11 HR, 45 RBIs, 6-1, 2.20 ERA); C/P Robby Hefflinger Sr. (.490 avg., 8 HR, 5-2, 2.20 ERA); 1B/C Adam Parker Sr. (.390 avg., 5 HR, 25 RBIs). Westminster, C Will Miller Sr. (.419 avg., leads team in hits, 2Bs and RBIs); P/1B Joseph Withrow So. (.349 avg. 5-0, 1.66 ERA); P J.D. Deyonker So. (4-1, 2.00 ERA)

Outlook: Since winning five state titles from 1996-2002 the Red Elephants have had some trouble escaping the first round of the playoffs, including being swept last year by Sandy Creek and losing in three games to Oconee County in 2006. Things won’t be any easier this year, as Gainesville has to take on a talented Westminster team that is hitting .310, scoring more than 10 runs per game and whose pitchers have a combined ERA of 2.37.

Three of those pitchers are sophomores and whether or not they can hold up under the pressure of pitching on the road in the playoffs against a vaunted lineup like Gainesville’s, which scores more than nine runs per game, will play a huge role in the outcome of this series. The 1-2 combination of Hefflinger and Bennett in the middle of the Red Elephants’ lineup is as explosive as it comes, but solo home runs won’t win this series, and Gainesville will need to do what ever it can to get runners on base before the big bats step to the plate.

Both of these rosters are playoff tested, with Gainesville reaching the playoffs four out of the last five years and Westminster reaching the postseason five consecutive years. The two traditional powerhouses have met in the state playoffs only once, with Westminster coming away with a victory in three games during the 2004 season.

Jefferson vs. Trion

When: Game 1, 4:30 p.m. today, Game 2, 7 p.m.; If necessary, Game 3, 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: Jefferson

Coaches: Jefferson, Tommy Knight; Trion, Dean Hollis

Records: Jefferson (18-4, No. 1 Region 8-A); Trion (7-16, No. 4 Region 6-A)

Key players: Jefferson, P/3B Chris Beck Jr. (7-0, 1.62 ERA, .375 avg., 7 HR); 1B Jake Fields So. (.581 avg., 13 HR, 38 RBIs); P Cameron Blinn Sr. (5-0, 1.24 ERA). Trion, P/C Jordan Day Sr. (5-2, 1.90 ERA, .382 avg.); P/1B/RF Brandon Hampton Sr. (.402 avg. 3 HR).

Outlook: Buoyed by a punishing offense and dominant pair of starting pitchers, Jefferson enters the playoffs as winners of 17 of its last 18 games.

The third-ranked Dragons, who reached the state semifinals last year and wrapped up their second straight region title on April 24, have totaled 36 home runs this season (one every 17 at-bats), sport a .369 team batting average, and average almost 10 runs per contest.

From the mound, they’re led by state playoff veterans Beck and Blinn, who have combined for 132 strikeouts in 86 2/3 innings pitched.

Trion, which will be making its third consecutive postseason appearance, doesn’t lack playoff experience but it does lack playoff success.

The Bulldogs’ last playoff win came in 1998.

Containing the Dragons’ potent lineup will be job No. 1 for the Bulldogs, and the bulk of that responsibility falls to starting pitchers, Day and Hampton.

“We’re going to need those guys to come up big,” Trion coach Dean Hollis said.

Lakeview vs. Gordon Lee

When: Game 1, 2 p.m. today, Game 2, 30 minutes after Game 1; If necessary, Game 3, 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: Lakeview Academy High School, Gainesville

Coaches: Lakeview, Deuce Roark; Gordon Lee, Greg Payne

Records: Lakeview (17-8, No. 2 Region 8-A); Gordon Lee (16-7-1, No. 3 Region 6-A)

Key players: Lakeview, CF Colin King Sr. (.400 avg., 4 HR); C Brett Armour Sr. (.400 avg., 3 HR). Gordon Lee, P/CF Zack DeBord Sr.

Outlook: Lakeview coach Deuce Roark knows that his team is facing a perennial Class A powerhouse in Gordon Lee, but he also knows what its going to take to win.

“Our focus is to compete every at bat,” Roark said. “The team that relaxes before the other team is usually the team that loses and it’s not going to be us.”

Gordon Lee has won 64 games over the last three seasons, are the two-time defending Region 6-A champions and have advanced to the Class A state Final Four in each of the last two years.

The Trojans also graduated 10 seniors and are losers of their last two games by a combined score of 19-5.

Lakeview, winners of seven of its last eight games by a combined score of 91-32, will look to stifle Gordon Lee ace Zack DeBord with what Roark refers to as the team’s strength.

“Our team strength is that we are getting contributions from one through nine,” Roark said. “We have become very aggressive and are jelling at the right time.

“It’s going to be a challenge, however, to not let him (DeBord) contol the game on the mound and at the plate.”

Lakeview will start Ralston Cash in Game 1 and Angus Ferguson in Game 2.

White County vs. Dunwoody

When: Game 1, 4:30 p.m, Game 2, 30 minutes after conclusion of game 1; If necessary, Game 3, 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: Dunwoody

Coaches: White County, John Brown; Dunwoody, Tom Bass

Records: White County (15-11, No. 4 Region 7-AAA); Dunwoody (19-5, No. 1 Region 5-AAA)

Key players: White County, 3B Travis Rutkiewicz Jr.; OF Josh Ingram Sr.; P/2B Brantley Gee Sr. Dunwoody, P Hudson Randall Jr.; P Corey Meek Jr.; P Grant Hillis Sr.

Outlook: White County qualified for the state playoffs for the first time since 1990 with a win in the regular season finale against West Hall last Friday.

Class AAA’s fourth-ranked Dunwoody is the Region 5-AAA champion and the defending state champions.

The Wildcats open the playoffs on a six-game winning streak.