Quest for a state baseball title begins for six Georgia schools

dmitchell@ledger-enquirer.comMay 1, 2014 

When Harris County entered the Class AAAAA baseball playoffs last season, it was a 3 seed that had sputtered down the stretch.

"We didn't have a ton of confidence that we could go on the road and win two out of three games," coach Steve Westmoreland said.

As a result, the Tigers were easily swept out of the playoffs in the first round.

This year, the expectations have changed.

When the Tigers (19-7) host the Bradwell Institute in the first round at 4 p.m. today, they expect it to be a precursor for a longer stay in the postseason. The Tigers are the Region 1 champions, while Bradwell is the 4 seed from Region 3.

"We've played well," Westmoreland said. "The bracket says we should get someone we can play well against, so our confidence is a lot higher than it was a year ago."

That can make all the difference.

While physical mistakes are correctable, a team's confidence can impact mental mistakes, a problem that can derail any postseason aspirations.

Westmoreland learned a little bit about the team's opponent this week. The Bradwell Institute has some good athletes that can present some problems, but it is 9-13.

"It's hard to gauge what we'll see without knowing more about their region," Westmoreland said. "I'm sure they'll come over here and play hard."

The Tigers will go with Casey Cobb and Drew Reeves on the mound in Games 1 and 2, respectively.

Elsewhere in Class AAAAA, Hardaway will host Effingham County (2 p.m. Friday) and Northside will travel to Richmond Hill (3:30 p.m. Friday).

Hardaway (17-8) struggled a little down the stretch relative to how it had played for the majority of the season. Despite losing the region title to Harris County, though, it still secured home field in the first round.

"I'd much rather be playing at home than the alternative," coach Chris Gilstrap said.

While the road may be moderately harder, the expectations haven't changed for the Hawks.

And given the experience they gained in the playoffs a year ago, Gilstrap said he thinks they are more prepared for the challenge this season.

An up-and-down season for Northside (16-10) ended with a victory over LaGrange, potentially giving the Patriots a boost entering the postseason.

Richmond Hill (18-8), however, won 10 consecutive games to close the regular season.

GHSA Class AAAA

Columbus High failed to win its region for the first time in 11 seasons. As a result, it will host 3 seed River Ridge at 2 p.m. Friday in the first round.

River Ridge (16-9) struggled to begin the year, going 1-6 in its first seven games, but went 11-2 in its final 13.

Columbus (21-5), meanwhile, did not lose consecutive games the entire season and will, as always, be a difficult out in the postseason.

It is trying to improve on its finish from a year ago in which it was knocked out in the second round after winning three straight state titles.

GHSA Class AA

Jordan High clinched Region 5-AA's final playoff spot in the last week of the regular season, earning the right to travel to Calhoun for a first-round game.

At 20-5, Calhoun closed its regular season with a loss to River Ridge, but won five of its final six and scored 15 or more runs on four occasions during that span.

Jordan has won four straight and is making its second consecutive playoff appearance. It lost in the first round to Rabun County last season.

GHSA Class A Private

Brookstone earned a playoff berth as a 10 seed in the Class A private playoffs.

It will play at No. 7 Savannah Christian at 3 p.m. today.

The Cougars (16-8) struggled down the stretch, losing three of their final four contests.

But the Cougars closed the regular season with a decisive 15-0 win over Manchester.

AHSAA Class 6A

Smiths Station's improbable late-season run continues in the state quarterfinals at 6 p.m. today when it hosts Baker.

The Panthers, which looked like they were down and out midway through the regular season, have won 10 consecutive games, including a two-game sweep of Auburn a week ago.

"We were up and down, very inconsistent for awhile," coach Mike Ferry said. "We went through a stretch where we lost several games. I told them after spring break that our playoffs started now. We've had to treat every series like our life is on the line. They've responded. Everything is contagious, good and bad, and we've had some people start hitting. A couple guys got hot and the others fed off of that."

When the Panthers made a semifinal run in 2004-05, Baker was the team to put them out of the playoffs.

"We know we're going to face a good team, so we need to have a good approach and put some pressure on them," Ferry said.

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