The baseball season in Region 7-AAA already had a storyline in place long before the first pitch had been thrown.
In the fall, before team rosters were even in place, region coaches voted to adopt a subdivided system for the 2010 season, the final year many of the region’s 14 schools will play together before next year’s reclassification.
The vote in favor of subdividing, which broke down to 8-5 vote with one coach abstaining, has a huge impact on the schedule and playoff qualifying process in Region 7-AAA. First of all, the subregions in the region break down along the same lines as basketball season.
“I feel like there are too many teams in our region to play a straight region schedule,” said Chestatee’s Wes Gentry, who voted to subdivide. “I like that early cushion of five or six games outside the region early in the season to get your team ready.”
The main point of contention with playing a subregion schedule is that a handful of coaches, mostly in Hall County, felt that it doesn’t necessarily reward the top four teams with a spot in the playoffs. The top two teams in each subregion get into the postseason, as opposed to last season when the four teams with the best record earned berths.
“I was not in favor of subdividing the region,” Flowery Branch coach Jimmy Lawler said. “With this system, I don’t feel like you’re rewarding the four best teams.
“Even if I was the fifth-place team in the region, I would still want the top four teams to go to the playoffs, because I want to see our region do well.”
Playoff seeding is also changed with the new subregion scheduling. Since crossover schools only face each other once this season, the winner of the game between the subregion champions will earn the higher player spot, and likewise for the second-place team in each subregion.
“The positive with subregions is you get more games against other opponents. The negative is that you don’t play everyone in the region twice like before,” said North Hall coach Trent Mongero, who also voted against subdividing. “It’s the system we got now, so we have to go with it.”
Now, each school plays schools in their own subregion twice (12 games total) and crossover schools only once (7 games).
With the subdivided schedule in place, most schools will play around seven non-region games before the region schedule begins. For example, North Hall has two games against Buford and Lakeview, as well as a game against North Forsyth, Forsyth Central and Stephens County before the region opener at Flowery Branch on March 17. That’s a big difference from last year, when the Trojans and most other schools in Region 7-AAA played two non-region games before the region schedule kicked off the first week of March.
Of course, once the games begin this season, everyone will probably shift their focus to the action in the field. Whether they voted for or against subdividing Region 7-AAA, most tend to agree to that parity is as high as ever. Last year, there were about six or seven programs in Region 7-AAA within reach of the playoffs when the final week of the season began.
This year, the same teams will tend to be in the hunt again, along with teams like Johnson, Chestatee, East Hall, West Hall. And Lambert could be a contender for the playoffs in year one, especially with players in the program that were re-districted from talent-rich South Forsyth.
“I think as a whole, the region is improved,” Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp said. “I don’t think there’s a team that is head and shoulders ahead of the rest, and it should be a wide-open race for the playoffs.”
Last year, Creekview, Flowery Branch, Lumpkin County and West Forsyth represented Region 7-AAA in the postseason, and should all be talented once again. The Red Elephants won nine of their final 11 games last season, and return most of their starters from last season. With the addition of senior shortstop K.J. McAllister (.449 avg., 6 HRs, 34 RBIs last year at North Hall), Gainesville should also be in contention when late April rolls around.
North Hall returns seven starters from a team that barely missed the postseason in 2009, Johnson is viewed as the team that should be most improved, and White County has a pitching staff that could be the best in the region.
Clearly, it is anyone’s region to win in 2010.
“We have 8-10 teams that are capable of winning between 15 and 17 games this season,” Johnson coach Tony Wilson said. “On paper, it looks like there’s a lot of good teams in Region 7-AAA.”