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Zopf: Region 7-AAA still up for grabs in prep baseball
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With the midway point of the 2008 prep baseball season here, one thing remains certain in regard to Region 7-AAA, it’s still anyone’s region to win.

With 12 to 14 games left in the regular season, seven of the 12 region teams are still in a position to nab one of the elusive four playoff spots, including four teams that are separated by only one game in the standings.

Atop those standings are the red hot Red Elephants of Gainesville.

After starting the year 0-3, the Red Elephants (10-4, 9-1 Region 7-AAA) have won eight games in a row and 10 of their last 11. And not only are they winning, but they are living up to their namesake and stomping on any regional opponent that comes across their path.

Since losing 5-1 to Flowery Branch on March 14, Gainesville is averaging 13.9 runs per game, outscoring its opponents 111-20 and have taken over first place in the region.

With games against Pickens today and Johnson on Wednesday, the Red Elephants should be riding a 10-game winning streak when they visit Flowery Branch for a rematch with the Falcons on Friday.

Speaking of those Falcons, Flowery Branch (12-2, 8-2) is currently tied with Gilmer (11-3, 8-2) for second place in the region, and despite some recent distractions, the Falcons have been able to keep their name close to the top of the region standings.

Playing without three key players, who were suspended for underage drinking last week, Flowery Branch still was able to win key region games against West Forsyth and North Hall. Those two wins increased the Falcons current winning streak to four games, which could be improved to six games with away games at Lumpkin County and Chestatee today and Wednesday.

If the Falcons and Red Elephants both continue their streaks, the winner of Friday’s game between the two schools could be in the drivers’ seat for the region title.

But Gilmer may have something to say about that.

The Bobcats have already proven that they are ready to compete for a region championship by starting the year 6-0 in region play, which included a 17-6 drubbing of Flowery Branch. But recently Gilmer’s offense has come back down to Earth.

After averaging nearly 11 runs a game during their six-game region win streak, the Bobcats scored just two runs in a loss to North Hall on March 26, and were blown out 11-4 against Gainesville on Wednesday.

The Bobcats’ offense should get back on track today when they start a string of six straight winable4games. But after that Gilmer will be tested with games at Flowery Branch on April 21 and at home against North Hall two days later.

North Hall (8-5, 5-4) is one of the final four teams in the region still with a chance at a possible playoff berth, but if the Trojans hope to reach the playoffs, they better start playing better baseball.

After knocking Gilmer from the ranks of the unbeaten, North Hall has lost two of its last three games, including a tough 5-4 home loss to Johnson, who are near the cellar in the region standings.

The next three games (vs. West Forsyth on Monday, at Lumpkin County on Wednesday and vs. Chestatee on Friday) could make or break the Trojans’ season, and vault one of the three teams behind them in the standings into that fourth and final playoff spot.

Lumpkin County (7-5, 5-4), which lost 9-0 to North Hall earlier this year, is one of the three remaining teams vying for the playoffs. The Indians are joined by White County (7-7, 5-5) and region newcomer West Forsyth (6-7, 5-5) as the teams that could sneak into the playoffs if the top four teams aren’t careful.

Out of the three, White County has the best chance to get in, as the Warriors are 2-2 against the top four teams and have wins against both Flowery Branch and North Hall. But the Warriors are slipping as of late, losing four of their last five games. Despite being a threat, White County’s playoff dreams could be over soon, as the Warriors play host to Gilmer on Wednesday, Flowery Branch on April 16 and North Hall on April 18.

If White County loses any of those games, Lumpkin County and West Forsyth still could be in a position to reach the playoffs, but the two teams are a combined 0-6 against the top four teams in the region, and each team still has to play those teams at least one more time before the season ends on May 1.

It doesn’t look too good for the Indians and Wolverines.

Regardless of whether or not the Lumpkin/White/West Forsyth triumverate can go on a run and reach the playoffs, the final stretch of the regular season should be filled with tough matchups, dramatic finishes and "must-win" games on a night in, night out basis.

Parity is a word that is thrown around all too often, but in regards to the baseball teams in Region 7-AAA, I think that word sums up the season perfectly.

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