Michael Bolen doesn’t want his Coahulla Creek baseball team to be labeled as “the feel-good” story of the 2017 Georgia High School Association state baseball playoffs.
“It’s a blessing and an honor,” Bolen said. “These guys have earned every bit of it.”
The Colts will travel to Blackshear on Wednesday to meet Region 2-AAA champion Pierce County. It’s the deepest penetration in the postseason in Coahulla Creek’s six-year history.
After sweeping Region 5 champion Redan in the quarterfinals in a pair of one-run games, the Colts garnered state-wide attention. Four-year starters Hayden Lock at shortstop, pitcher Trent Collins and second-baseman Ethan Whaley have played key roles in the team’s success.
But a pair of three-year outfield starters in Joseph Schwartz and Tanner Cronan have been just as valuable.
However, the contributions aren’t just limited to the upperclassmen.
Sophomore standouts Donovan Sims at third base, infielder Drew Sage and right fielder Michael King hope to keep Coahulla Creek in the championship talk for many years to come.
Collins has been the team’s ace, but a pair of sophomores in Eli Turso and Grant Ogle, all right-handers, have been just as effective.
Bolen won’t take any credit for the Colts’ success.
“It’s these guys’ hard-work and commitment,” he said. “They do what they have to do to help us be successful.”
Pierce County may be the favorite in Class AAA after sweeping Rutland, Hart County and Greater Atlanta Christian. The Bears have played well under first-year coach Andrew Evans, who was promoted last spring after former coach Greg Gay moved into an administration role.
In the other side of the Class AAA bracket, Calhoun will be playing its fourth straight state playoff series on the road. After finishing as the fourth seed from Region 6, the Yellow Jackets will visit preseason favorite North Hall, who appears to be hitting its stride after the Trojans struggled down the stretch in the regular season and finished as the No. 3 seed from Region 7.
After needing three games to beat Pace Academy in the first round, North Hall swept Brantley County and Ringgold to make it to the state semifinals.
Not having to play any extra-inning games against Etowah will be just fine for Mill Creek coach Doug Jones when his team plays host to the Eagles in the semifinals.
The Hawks needed eight innings to beat North Paulding 5-3 in Game 1 of the quarterfinals, then North Paulding rallied to win Game 2, 2-0, in nine innings to force a third game.
But Davis Sharpe tossed six shutout innings to help the Hawks to a 5-1 victory in Game 3 to win the series.
Etowah, the fourth seed from Region 4, has played decisive Game 3s in every round of the state playoffs. They ousted East Coweta, Mountain View and Brookwood.
In the other side of the bracket, North Gwinnett is in the semifinals for the first time since 2010 and the first time under coach Ryan Moity after needing 12 innings to defeat Hillgrove in Game 2 of the quarterfinals last week. Parker Coyne’s RBI single in the 12th helped the Bulldogs to a walk-off victory.
The Bulldogs, however, have their hands full with a pitching-heavy Woodstock team that has allowed 15 runs in seven postseason games, 13 of which came in a 13-3 Game 1 loss to Parkview in the quarterfinals.
Woodstock pitchers have combined to throw shutouts in five playoff games.
River Ridge is making its first trip to the state semifinals when they visit Pope after finishing as the Region 6 runner-up. The Knights have knocked out two region champions in the postseason in Tucker and Alexander.
River Ridge got three hits each from Noah Fitzgerald and Chris Williams and a three-run homer from Connor Pavolony to defeat Alexander 11-7 last Friday in a decisive Game 3 to advance.
Pope, the preseason favorite in Class 6A, is making its third straight trip to the semifinals. The Greyhounds, who competed in the state’s largest classification the past two seasons, finished as the state runner-up last year. The Greyhounds lost in the semifinals in 2015.
Pope needed three games to get past Dalton in the quarterfinals last week.
In the other semifinal series, Lee County is making its deepest postseason run since 2007 as the Trojans will entertain Johns Creek. This will be the fifth time in school history the Trojans have made the semifinals. The only time Lee played for the state title was in 2005 when Buster Posey led Lee to a state runner-up finish after dropping a three-game series to Jason Heyward and Henry County.
Johns Creek is one of the hottest teams in any class. The Gladiators, playing in their third final four in six seasons, have played every playoff series this spring on the road. Johns Creek has went to South Paulding, Greenbrier and Allatoona.
Johns Creek opened in 2009 and has never played in a state championship series.
Locust Grove is chasing a second straight championship. However, the Wildcats will have to stop Wayne County in order to play for a title again. Locust Grove has lost just once since March 30.
The Wildcats have dispatched Statesboro, Flowery Branch and McIntosh to reach the semifinals. Four of the team’s six postseason victories have been shutouts behind standout pitchers Ethan Lindow and Nolan Crisp.
Wayne County swept Carrollton in the quarters after needing three games to eliminate Jones County and Buford in the first two rounds. The Jackets may be playing their best baseball at the right time.
Shortstop Mason Robertson leads the offense, while right-handed pitcher Joshua Gordon has been lights out in the postseason.
In the other semifinal series, Starr’s Mill has rolled past Bainbridge, Kell and Decatur to make the semifinals, but they will play host to their toughest postseason opponent yet in Loganville.
Senior pitcher Jake Arnold has been key for Starr’s Mill on the mound.
Loganville is back in the semifinals after finishing as the state runner-up to Houston County in the Class 5A state championship series last year.
Perhaps the most intriguing series could be when Marist visits LaGrange. Neither team was predicted to do much in the preseason. However, both teams have been strong in the postseason.
LaGrange, the No. 2 seed from Region 5, has swept Chestatee, Northside-Columbus and Stephens County. Marist, meanwhile, swept Cedartown and Cairo before eliminating Madison County in three games.
On the other side of the bracket, Heritage-Catoosa is in its first final four and they will visit Blessed Trinity. Cole Wilcox leads Heritage on the mound, while Blessed Trinity has a wealth of talented arms.
The Titans have played in the semifinals for five straight seasons. The last time Blessed Trinity lost before the final four was in 2012 when the Titans were swept in the Class AA quarterfinals by eventual state champion Appling County.
Region 2 is showing off its dominance in the postseason. Jeff Davis, Bacon County and Toombs County seek to make the state championship series a Region 2 affair. Elbert County, the lone team still playing not from Region 2, is hoping to spoil it.
Bacon County visits Elbert County after sweeping Harlem, Rabun County and Bleckley County. The Red Raiders are led by pitcher Tyler Altman and Klein Nipper.
Elbert County’s two-headed pitching monster of Bryce Bowen and Colton Moon have made life miserable for opponents in the postseason.
On the other side of the bracket, top-ranked Jeff Davis has cruised through the postseason sweeping Screven County, Social Circle and Rockmart. They took both games from Toombs during the regular season, needing nine innings to beat the Bulldogs 5-3 on March 28, then beating them 10-0 on March 30.
Pitcher Cody Ogilvie leads Jeff Davis, while Toombs has been led by pitchers DR Meadows and Lane Adams.
The Toombs-Jeff Davis series is the only one across the state that won’t begin on Wednesday. The doubleheader series will start on Thursday in Hazlehurst.
Class A Public
Gordon Lee made back-to-back trips to Folkston in 2013 and in ’14 to play Charlton County for the Class A public school state championship. Charlton won both seasons to claim back-to-back titles.
But this spring, Charlton County will make the drive to Chickamauga to face the Trojans in a series that should feature excellent pitching. Austin Knowles and Jack Gowen lead Charlton on the hill, while Gordon Lee will counter with Austin Thompson and Ethan Clark.
On the other side of the bracket, Schley County will entertain Telfair County. Schley County is in the semifinals for the third straight season after winning the state title in 2015. The Wildcats have the ability to put up plenty of offense behind infielders Will Barry, Clint Sellars and Chase Patrick.
Telfair pitchers Ryan Dopson and Ethan Blankenship have had strong seasons to get the Trojans to this point.
Class A Private
Holy Innocents’ and Tattnall Square were predicted to finish 1-2 in the Georgia Dugout Preview Magazine’s preseason poll. The two will meet in Macon on Wednesday.
The Golden Bears took a 9-7 victory over Tattnall Square in eight innings during the regular season on April 8. Tattnall outhit Holy Innocents 14-10, but the Bears scored four runs in the eighth inning to win.
Both teams received first-round byes in the postseason. Holy Innocents swept Calvary Day and Kings Ridge Christian, while Tattnall Square swept George Walton and Hebron Christian to reach the semifinals for the third straight year.
In the other bracket, Savannah Christian entertains Athens Christian in another intriguing matchup. Athens Christian won its first region title in school history and is making its deepest postseason run. Keep an eye on pitchers Andrew Hayes and Emory Vaughan as well as shortstop Chan Pethel.
Savannah Christian took over the top spot in the polls midway through the season and hasn’t stopped since. The Red Raiders have swept North Cobb Christian and Mount de Sales behind a pair of seniors in pitcher Zack Brockman and infielder Ben Jackson. Keep an eye on freshman catcher/pitcher Kyle Hilton.