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With baseball playoffs comes strategy
Coaches must manage pitching staff in 3-game series
Gainesville High pitcher Hunter Anglin pitches in the Ivey-Watson Field bullpen Thursday afternoon during the Red Elephants’ practice. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

The state playoffs have arrived, and with the postseason comes an adjustment.

Unlike the regular season when teams play one head-to-head game with an opponent, then move on to the next one, postseason matchups are decided by a best-of-three series. That opens the door for more coaching strategy, in particular how to manage the pitching rotation.

There are two approaches a coach can take — start with your best pitcher in Game 1 and work down the line, or hold him for Game 2.

From there, it’s a matter of managing the pitching staff. For example, if one team gets off to a fast start or the game gets out of hand, a pitcher can be pulled early so he can be made available in another game.

This year, most area coaches with teams in playoffs are sticking with the conventional option of starting their top pitcher in Game 1.

“We’re going to go with our two best on Friday," said White County coach John Brown, referring to Georgia commits David Sosebee and Luke Crumley. The Warriors are Region 8-AAA’s top seed and will face Carrollton today.

“Hopefully, we’ll do well, but if not, we’ve got the whole staff to work with on Saturday. We’ve got a senior, a junior and a freshman who could throw if it gets to that situation.”

Brown’s reasoning behind the strategy comes from his experience coaching in Florida.

“In Florida, you didn’t have that situation,” said Brown, who won three state titles during his 33 seasons at University Christian School (Jacksonville, Fla.). “You play one-game series in the playoffs, so I’ve learned to play it one game at a time, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Buford coach Tony Wolfe said his approach changes from year to year. This postseason, he considers his top two pitchers equal and will use Jake Burnette and Josh Heddinger in the first two games. Both have signed with Georgia Tech. Wolfe will send junior left-hander Sam Clay, who has offers from Georgia Tech and Tennessee, to the mound if the series goes three games.

Buford is the top seed from 6-AA and will host Fannin County today.

“To be honest, it varies from year to year depending on pitchers and (the other team’s) makeup,” Wolfe said. “This year, we have extreme confidence in our three main starters.

“There’s been times in the past where I’ve started my No. 2 in the first game. If I feel we don’t match up well with their No.1, I’ll work it backwards and go with a No. 2 or 3 guy in Game 1. A few years ago against Calhoun, we faced (2007 Washington Nationals first-round draft pick) Josh Smoker, so we were obviously going to have a hard time with him no matter who we threw out there. Smoker beat our No. 1 in a game that ended 2-1, so that really makes you second-guess yourself. We could have lost 10-1 and used a better pitcher the next game.

“That will make you reconsider.”

North Hall coach Trent Mongero will use the same recipe that landed the Trojans 8-AAA’s a No. 3 seed.

They’ll play at LaGrange today.

“Were going to stick with what got us here and use the best available at the time of the first game,” Mongero said. “It doesn’t matter (if they have a dominant No. 1), we have to do what we do best and take care of our business. That starts with good pitching.”

The Trojans will send out Chris Stevens and Preston Graham for the first two games of the series.

Depending on how Mongero uses the bullpen in those games, he’ll go with either Jared Oliver or Wade Phillips should the series come to a Game 3. If Oliver is fresh, he’ll get the start. But if he’s needed out of the bullpen on Friday, Phillips will go Saturday.

Gainesville coach Jeremy Kemp will go with the rotation of David Gonzalez, Hunter Anglin and Stephen Mason in the Red Elephants’ series against Troup.

“The goal is to win and do whatever you have to do to win the first game,” Kemp said. “We didn’t get into (switching around pitchers) last year. During the course of the season, we went with our starters when it was their turn. All three have pitched big games and are ready and confident.”

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