The road to the Georgia High School Association Class AAA baseball state championship has gone through Columbus for all of the past two seasons and through four rounds of the playoffs this season.
The road takes a detour Monday to Northwest Georgia, Ringgold to be specific, as the two-time defending state champion Blue Devils will play a postseason series on the road for the first time since the 2009 finals, which they lost at Cartersville.
Since that time, Columbus has played 14 straight series in Columbus, either on campus at Randy Jordan Field or at Columbus State's Ragsdale Field. In those 14 series, the Blue Devils are 28-5, including 8-1 this season. Two of those series came against Ringgold. The Blue Devils swept the Tigers in the finals in 2010 and beat them 2-of-3 in last year's second round.
"It will be a challenge," Columbus coach Bobby Howard said. "We haven't done it in awhile, especially with this group. We have been spoiled."
Before you think there is some conspiracy to give Columbus an unfair advantage, a look at the GHSA baseball playoff bracket tells the story of how the Blue Devils have had home-field advantage so often in the past few years.
Four teams from each of eight regions make the GHSA playoffs in each classification. The 32 teams are placed into brackets where the No. 1 seed from a region will host the No. 4 from another region in the first round. The eight No. 2 seeds and eight No. 3 seeds also play one another in the first round, with the eight No. 2s hosting.
If the seedings hold true, then the eight No. 1s will host the eight No. 2s in the second round. When the teams get to the quarterfinals -- and theoretically it would be eight No. 1s making it there -- then the bracket has the home team predetermined for the final three rounds.
But if there are upsets along the way, then the seedings come back into play as the higher seed always will host a lower seed.
In 2010 and '11, Co
lumbus -- or whichever team won Region 6 -- was scheduled to be at home for as long as it played.
This year, however, Columbus would have been on the road for the quarterfinals and the semifinals if the other three No. 1s on its half of the bracket had survived. But Veterans -- the possible quarterfinal host -- lost to Cartersville, a No. 2 seed, in the second round.
The other two No. 1 seeds, Woodward Academy and Crisp County, lost in the first two rounds as Troup, a No. 4 seed, became the Blue Devils' semifinal opponent.
But while this Columbus team has not been on the road in the postseason recently, it is not like it hasn't been on the road at all.
At the end of March, the Blue Devils spent nearly a week in North Carolina playing in the National High School Invitational.
"We have been on the road a lot, maybe not in a playoff series," Howard said. " They are used to traveling, so it will not be that different for our guys."
Kyle Carter, who will be the Blue Devils' starter Monday in Game 1, agreed with his coach
"It's still a game," he said. "It doesn't matter. (You have) got to block out everyone who is outside of the field and play the game."
Kevin Price, firstname.lastname@example.org, 706-320-4493