As I type these words, I really thought at this point they’d be accompanied by an area baseball team from Region 8-AAA still alive in the state playoffs. Though White County, Gainesville and North Hall were all eliminated in the second round, it doesn’t take away from what they accomplished this season.
All three defined the competitive nature of the new region, as the Warriors, Red Elephants and Trojans ended the regular season tied atop the standings, leaving just one playoff spot for the rest of the region, and squeezing out perennial contender Oconee County.
White County, with a veteran-heavy squad, emerged from the tie-breaker to take the top seed and clinched the first region championship in program history. Gainesville, which reached the quarterfinals last season, re-loaded with key underclassmen contributing and snatched the No. 2 seed. Similarly, North Hall rose to the top of the standings — a surprise to some — with key underclassmen and veteran bats.
All had promising starts to the postseason. White County breezed past Carrollton in a sweep, and Gainesville and North Hall won in three games. The Red Elephants battled back for two straight wins after losing Game 1 with a convincing mercy-rule win over Troup in Game 3, and the Trojans erupted with seven runs in the ninth inning in their Game 3 on the road against LaGrange to advance.
But the three would meet their demise in the second round, with only White County winning a game. Gainesville was swept on the road at Woodward Academy, and North Hall was swept at Cartersville. The Warriors, had a few plays gone their way, could have beat Allatoona, but the Buccaneers emerged the winner in 10 innings.
So their seasons came to abrupt, disappointing ends, but the seasons they enjoyed created excitement among the community. Down the stretch, every game counted and no single team created separation from the other. And it’s not like the teams were struggling to break through. Each win was matched by another and another, all the way to the last day of the season.
White County enjoyed an 11-game win streak before losing the season finale, after having all but clinched the region title. Gainesville won nine of its last 10 games. North Hall won 10 of its last 11.
Between the three teams, there were some memorable battles to keep the rivalries going strong. White County’s two narrow wins over Gainesville helped ensure its 8-AAA title. In the Warriors’ season opener, they had an early six-run lead over North Hall, but the Trojans stormed back to take the win on the road. Several weeks later, White County earned the split in the season series in an epic pitching duel that ended with neither team committing an error. Also, one of the best county rivalries in the state, regardless of the sport, North Hall and Gainesville split their series.
The 2011 season provides hope for next year, with Gainesville and North Hall returning a significant amount of the talent that got them so far. In my mind, they’ll be favorites to remain at the top of the 2012 region standings. White County will have to lean on different players to match this year’s success, but the Warriors shouldn’t be counted out.
The three teams provided an exciting 8-AAA season and should provide one more before reclassification likely intervenes for the 2012-13 school year. From there, who knows what will happen to these rivalries.
But for this year and the next, there is good baseball to be enjoyed.
Adam Krohn is a sports writer for The Times. Follow him at twitter.com/gtimesakrohn.