For the first time since 2005, the Hardaway baseball team goes into the playoffs with a top seed.
It will certainly be a benefit for the Hawks, who host a doubleheader at 2 p.m. Thursday to open a best-of-three series against Northgate in the first round of the Class AAAAA playoffs. But coach Chris Gilstrap isn’t taking anything for granted.
“It isn’t a traditional 1-versus-4 matchup,” he said on Tuesday.
That’s because Northgate isn’t a typical 4-seed. It is just four years removed from a state championship and finished the regular season with 18 wins, 15 of which came in one of the toughest regions in the state. Two of the region’s four teams are currently ranked among the top 10 in Class AAAAA.
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“It’s a better feeling knowing you were the best in your region,” Gilstrap said. “You get the 4-seed, which is a lucky thing. Those are some tough teams out of that region.”
One of the main things to remember about Northgate, Gilstrap said, is that it is a team that doesn’t beat itself. Sure, they have talented players, but it’s also a team that stresses fundamentals.
“They’ve got some good hitters and they’re very well coached,” Gilstrap said. “They’re not going to beat themselves. It all comes down to what we can do on our end. We don’t want to be the team that plays to its level of competition. If we play the way we’re capable of, we’re confident.”
Hardaway has lost just four times this season and never twice in a row. It took two out of three games in four of its region series’, and Gilstrap said he’s just trying to keep the guys loose and focused on continuing that trend.
“We’re not worried much about the fact that we’re a 1-seed or anything,” he said. “Nobody’s looking at it that way. We just want to keep them loose and mix up practice a little so we don’t get into a boring routine. We’ve done well so far, so we just want to focus on moving on.”
Still, it’s something a lot of the players have never experienced. Gilstrap knows there will be some people that doubt his team because of that, but that’s not a bad position to be in.
“You want to jump out and open some eyes,” he said. “I’m sure there are still some doubters out there who say that we played in an easier region or whatever. We know what we’re capable of, though. We’d much rather be a team that people underestimate than have a target on our back.”
Hardaway will send pitchers C.J. Brown and Travon Dorsey to the hill for the first two games of the series on Thursday.
Gilstrap said there’s a field full of players who are itching to be out there.
“They’re ready to go,” he said. “They’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.