State championship previews

Posted 5/17/19

Loganville players celebrate after defeating Locust Grove in the GHSA Class 5A state semifinals.



Class 7A

Who: Hillgrove (32-8) vs. Parkview (34-4)

Where: SunTrust Park

When: May 20 (DH), if game May 21

Hillgrove saw the benefits of its year-long labor pay dividends Tuesday night when they swept Grayson to advance to the state championship series for the first time since 2011.

“This group of young men have invested a lot,” Richardson told the Marietta Daily Journal. “We don’t just show up in January and pack it up when the season is over with. Our kids work hard in the weight room, 401s and summer stuff. I’m so proud of our kids, because they’ve invested a lot. They’re a special group, especially the seniors.”

The Hawks' opponent will be defending state champion Parkview, who also denied Hillgrove the state championship in 2011 in the state's highest classification.

The Hawks have been tough to beat with a lineup that can score plenty of runs, as well as a pitching rotation that bends but doesn't break.

Outfielders Ethan Wright (.344 avg., 18 RBIs), Justin Tew (.330 avg., 4 HR, 21 RBIs) and Deion Walker (.342 avg., 7 HR, 45 RBIs) as well as Mason Curtis (.311 avg., 6 2B) and first baseman Reid Brown (.314 avg., 26 RBIs) lead a talented offense capable of putting up big numbers.

Pitching-wise, Walker (10-1, 3.12 ERA), Austin Heard (7-1, 1.94 ERA) and Max DeJong (3-0, 1.34 ERA) have gotten the bulk of the starts, but the bullpen has been a team strength with consistency from Fred Wilson, Brennan Richardson, Alex McKay and Curtis.

On defense, there may not be a better middle infield duo than second baseman Jack Gilsenan and shortstop Wade Richardson.

Parkview is in the state championship series for the eighth time in school history and has never lost in the final round. The Panthers are seeking their fifth championship since 2011.

The Panthers have swept Peachtree Ridge, North Forsyth, Walton and North Gwinnett in the postseason. As usual, Parkview has gotten dominant pitching from starters Miles Garrett and Xander Stephens, then reliever Brad Stanley has finished. Stanley recorded two saves in the sweep of North Gwinnett Wednesday night.

Offensively, leadoff hitter Allan del Castillo has sparked the offense all season as well as Stephen Hrustich and Jonathan French. Hrustich went a combined 4-for-7 at the plate against North Gwinnett with a homer and six RBIs. His two-run shot in Game 1 gave the Panthers an early 2-0 lead and may have set the tone for the series.

French went a combined 2-for-4 with a homer and four RBIs. He has 58 on the season.

Parkview has won 14 straight. This season was supposed to be a rebuilding year, but the Panthers could have a chance to set a school record for wins in a season. Last year's national championship team set the mark with 35.

“This team, they’ve got a lot of fight in them, and they responded," Parkview coach Chan Brown told the Gwinnett Daily Post after the Panthers swept Walton in the third round.


Class 6A

Who: Heritage-Conyers (29-7) vs. Pope (31-9)

Where: State Mutual Stadium, Rome, Ga.

When: May 22 (DH), if game May 23

Forgive Heritage coach Shane Ramsey if he gets a little emotional when talking about his 2019 baseball team.

"Four players -- Griffin Holcombe, Ray Joseph, Nick Watson-Garcia and Calabria Atkins have been with me since they were freshmen," Ramsey said. "Holcombe, Joseph and Watson-Garcia started. Atkins would have, but he was a transfer. He was here, he just didn't play."

And those four players have played a vital role in helping restore the Heritage baseball program back to prominence, which includes back-to-back Region 3-6A titles and a trip to the state finals. The Patriots' last visit to the state championship series was in 2007 when they finished as the state runner-up.

Holcombe, Watson-Garcia and Nolan Woodward have anchored a strong pitching rotation, while players like Atkins, Joseph and Darryl Buggs have been strong on offense.

"The toughness with this group has been impressive," Ramsey said. "Our guys haven't let the moment get to them, we've just got to go out and continue to do our jobs."

They will face a Pope squad that hasn't been as dominating as in the past. But the two-time defending Class 6A champion Greyhounds have found a way back to the state championship series for the fourth straight year. They've needed four Game 3s in the state playoffs this season to make it here.

"These guys just keep finding ways to get it done," Pope coach Jeff Rowland said. "I'm really proud and happy for them."

It has been a team effort. Pitching continues to be the strength as Max Pralgo, Gage Vailes and Reid Robertson have gotten most of the innings, while Andrew Herlitz has been consistent in relief.

On offense, infielder Buddy Floyd, first baseman James Tibbs, outfielder Will Lantis and catcher Caden Smith to name a few have been strong at the plate. 

Even though Pope is going for its fifth state championship in the past 11 seasons, Rowland said past success won't be a factor in the championship series. Pope is looking to win its third straight state title, something that hasn't been done since Columbus High won three in a row from 2010-12.

"We don't take our success for granted," he said. "We take each one, appreciate it and celebrate it for what it is."


Class 5A

Who: Ola (28-10) vs. Loganville (32-6)

Where: Coolray Field, Lawrenceville, Ga.

When: May 20 (DH), if game May 21

Note: If Game 3 is needed, it moves to SunTrust Park


You won't get much out of Loganville High School baseball coach Jeff Segars. You won't get a lot of negativity, and he always heaps the utmost praise on his opponents. But he does speak fondly of his 2019 Loganville squad.

After heavy graduation losses, including his top three starting pitchers in Joseph Brandon, Bay Witcher and Seth Clark as well as a host of offensive standouts, the two-time defending Class 5A state champions are in the state championship series for the fourth straight season. They finished as state runner-up in 2016.

"It's been fun to watch this group develop," Segars said.

Chemistry has been big for this team. Caleb Garner, Connor Bruce and Dawson Coe has received the bulk of the innings on the mound as the Red Devils have compiled another lethal pitching rotation. But offensively, Loganville has been just as dangerous, sweeping Lithonia, Carrollton, Thomas County Central and Locust Grove by a combined 69-16. 

Catalysts Ian King, Dylan Strickland, Jacob Boyd and Daniel Braswell have put up some impressive numbers. But Segars likes to emphazie the entire lineup.

"Our lineup is really balanced," he said. "Our lineup, one through nine, has been very productive, and that can wear (on an opponent's) pitching staff.

Ola is playing for a state baseball championship for the first time in the school's 13-year history. And coach Beau Edwards has one word to describe the 2019 Mustangs.

"Resilient," he said. "They've been very resilient. We've preached all year long to take one pitch at a time and to go out there and play, and to not let the moment be bigger than the game."

Since a pair of region losses to Stockbridge and Dutchtown in early March, the Mustangs have steadily improved. They won the Region 4-5A title and with the exception of a Game 2 loss to Buford in the quarterfinals, Ola is 8-1 in postseason play following a sweep of Region 6-5A champion Decatur in the semifinals.

Edwards singled out Sterling Richardson, Baylen Sanders and senior Michael Thomason who have been instrumental in providing strong leadership this season. Ola's three-headed pitching monter of Richardson, Evan Boyle and Patrick Holloman has kept the opposition off-balanced.

Meanwhile, the Mustangs' offense has combined to score 63 runs in postseason play.

"Those guys have answered when we needed answers," Edwards said of his club. "We've had a lot of different people step up for us this year."

While Ola is chasing its first state baseball championship, Loganville is seeking a third straight state title, something that hasn't been done since Columbus High won three in a row from 2010-12.


Class 4A

Who: Northside-Columbus (30-8) vs. Denmark (21-17)

Where: State Mutual Stadium, Rome, Ga.

When: May 21 (DH), if game May 23

Three interesting storylines will come out of the Class 4A state championship series when Northside-Columbus meets Denmark.

The first is the series will be the only championship round that features two teams who weren't a region champion or a runner-up. Northside finished as the third seed from Region 1-4A, while Denmark barely made it into the postseason as the fourth and final seed from Region 7-4A.

The second is that both schools are less than 15 years old and have never been this far in the postseason. Northside opened in 2002, while Denmark opened last fall.

The third is that the head coaches -- Northside's Dee Miller and Denmark's David Smart -- coached together at Northside before Smart left after the 2014 season. Both coaches remain very close friends.

"I'm happy for him," Smart said. "I always said that at some point, he would be playing for (a state baseball championship) and I wanted to be there to watch it, just not in the other dugout (as his opponent)." 

Miller was a groomsman in Smart's wedding and said he's happy for his former boss.

"I don't know that either of us want to play each other," Miller said.

Regardless, two underdogs that nobody saw coming will meet in what will be an intriguing series. Northside has played three of its four postseason series on the road, while Denmark has played all of its rounds on the road.

"We played a lot of games at home this season, but we played a lot on the road as well," Miller said. "When we played on the road, it felt like we played our best baseball. I guess there were less distractions and the players seemed more focused."

The Patriots have gotten strong pitching from Colton Joyner and Connor Sizemore. Will Graydon provided a strong start in the Game 3 win over North Oconee in the semifinals, while Hunter Poe has been strong in relief.

Offensively, Poe, Tray Richburg, Clayton Weaver and Mack Williams have been consistent at the plate. And Connor O'Neal's two-run walk-off single in Game 2 helped the Patriots to a 6-5 victory, fueling momentum for the team's eventual Game 3 victory.

Denmark has defeated Northwest Whitfield, St. Pius X, West Laurens and Blessed Trinity to reach the finals. And each time, it seems to be someone different stepping forward.

After dropping Game 1, 6-3, on Tuesday against Blessed Trinity, Logan DeLong used a bases-loaded walk to force home the winning run in the bottom of the ninth as the Danes won 4-3 to force a Game 3. DeLong went 2-for-3 with a double and two RBIs, while Jack Kream had a two-run homer. Drew Clare earned the victory in relief of starter Jack Whitlock.

On Wednesday, a four-run second inning gave Denmark the lead for good, then they held on. Pitcher Matthew Cassandra allowed four runs (three earned) on six hits in six innings of work to record the victory. Smaran Ramanathan worked a 1-2-3 seventh to record the save. Carson Russell had two doubles and three RBIs, while Cassandra added a two-run homer.

"We talked all year about playing hard and competing, and not getting caught up in the results," Smart said. "It's really hard to put into words about this season. When I came here, we had the idea that hopefully this would be the end result at some point. For it to be right now, to say it's expected, would not be true."


Class 3A

Who: Pike County (32-4) vs. Pace Academy (26-6)

Where: Luther Williams Field, Macon, Ga.

When: May 21 (DH), if game May 22

Pace Academy coach Seth LaFera knows there's more to a good baseball team than just good players. He said other characteristics such as chemistry, leadership and cohesiveness may be more important.

"We always take a little trip to Florida for spring break and we played some good baseball teams and got our tails worn out this year," he said. "But it helped us."

Since that trip where Pace played Tampa Jesuit and Tampa Catholic, the Knights are 23-1, and they've won 21 in a row. Sandwiched in that run is a sweep of region foes Redan, Westminster and Lovett as Pace claimed the rugged Region 5-3A title. 

They enter the Class 3A state championship series as perhaps the hottest team in the state. LaFera knew the Knights had the offense to contend this season, but he wasn't sure about the pitching staff.

But left-hander TJ Rafeedie and Brian Zeldin have been strong as starting pitchers, while Mitch O'Berry, Darian Howard and Andrew Jenkins have provided some solid innings.

"The guys stepped up and really worked on their crafts," LaFera said. "I'm happy things turned out the way they did."

In playoff sweeps of East Jackson, Calhoun, Crisp County and North Hall, the Knights have combined to outscore their opponents 84-12.

Pike County is playing for the state championship for the first time since 2011 when the Pirates finished as the state runner-up. The school has never won a state title.

Head coach Don Hanson said he thought this team had a chance to be special, but he kept it a secret until late in the regular season.

"We sort of kept it amongst our coaches," Hanson said. "With God's gracy and mercy, everybody stayed healthy. And the kids bought in hook, line and sinker."

The backbone has been a strong pitching rotation lead by Coleman Crow, Dylan Garner and Noah Windhorst.

The Pirates have been strong in postseason play, too. With the exception of a Game 2 loss to Fannin County in the state quarterfinals, the Pirates swept their other three postseason opponents -- Long County, Islands and Hart County.

Pike's sweep of Hart County in the semifinals was largely due to a pair of complete-game pitching efforts from Crow and Windhorst.

The offense has also been consistent. Crow and Marsh Burford have posted solid numbers at the plate. And others are starting to step up too, such as standout soccer player Davis York who smashed a two-run homer in Game 1 against Hart County. Hanson said centerfielder Wyatt Lee has also had some good at-bats in the postseason.

"Our guys are starting to see the ball well," Hanson said. "We have a big senior class, 12 seniors. But these guys really love playing with each other." 


Class 2A

Who: Jeff Davis (29-6) vs. Rockmart (28-9)

Where: Luther Williams Field, Macon, Ga.

When: May 20 (DH), if game May 22

Rockmart coach Kenny Yanzetich won't admit there's any pressure. His school's athletic program won eight region titles this school year, including a tennis championship, some individual wrestling and track & field titles as well as a state runner-up finish in football.

"We're happy to be here and get a chance at it," Yanzetich said after his Jackets survived a thrilling three-game series against Callaway in the state semifinals last week. "Our programs have definitely had some success this year."

Rockmart is playing for its first state baseball title with a pitching rotation that has been led by junior Ty Floyd, an LSU commit who was the Game 2 winner and earned the Game 3 save against Callaway. In eight innings, he fanned 20 batters. But Jonathan Suppes, Brayden Cole and Griffin Pace have been strong in the postseason. Luke Shelton has been impressive as a reliever.

Offensively, catcher Dylan Bailey, Cole and Reed Couch have been hot in the postseason. 

Rockmart was down to its last out and trailing against Callaway in Game 3 by two runs until Andruw Morris' two-run single tied the game at 5. Then CJ Culver's two-run triple gave the Yellow Jackets a two-run lead heading to the bottom of the seventh inning against Callaway in Game 3, which set up a 1-2-3 inning by Floyd to seal the victory and the series.

"It's been crazy, but everything is a testament to the kids," Yanzetich said. "I'm proud of them. They've battled their tails off this year."

Like Rockmart, Jeff Davis survived a wild Game 3 finish at Bleckley County to win the series and advance to the Class 2A state championship series for the third time in three years. They won the 2017 state championship, the first in school history.

After losing a wealth of talent to graduation, Jeff Davis wasn't expected to make a deep postseason run.

"Skill-wise, we had a lot of players who we thought could be good," head coach Paul Glass said. "But how would they respond to varsity atmosphere as an every day player? The unknown was there. Part of me wants to say yes, I am a little surprised. But then we thought that if we played up to our potential, we had a chance to be competitive."

Caleb Leggett has been the team's Game 1 starter on the mound, but Matthew White has emerged as the team's Game 2 starter. Glass said Garrison Miles and Britt Metts have been solid as well as Cole Baucom, who has received a lot of innings lately.

Offensively, catcher Colby Marchant and Metts have led the way.

Glass said the team's chemistry has been excellent. He said when one aspect of the game is down, such as in Game 3 against Bleckley County when the defense was shaky, he said the pitching and the offense stepped forward to carry the team.


Class 1A Public

Who: Schley County (28-5) vs. Gordon Lee (30-4)

Where: Grayson Stadium, Savannah, Ga.

When: May 20 (DH), if game May 22

Chuck Cheek laughed when a reporter mentioned that his Schley County baseball program is in the middle of a mini dynasty.

"I also know it's way more about the kids than us," said Cheek, who has his Wildcats in the Class 1A Public state championship series for the third time in the past five seasons. The Wildcats claimed titles in 2015 and 2017.

"We've had a lot of talent here. That 2016 team that got beaten by Treutlen in the semifinals might have been the best team we ever had. For single-A baseball, we had three pitchers on that team touching 90 that year. But we've certainly had a lot of talent here."

One more championship would make history in the Georgia High School Association's Class 1A Public classification for the Wildcats. Since public and private schools split Class 1A after the 2012 season to form their own state champion, only Charlton County and Schley County have won multiple titles. Both have two each. Schley could potentially be the only program in the classification with three crowns.

The pitching staff garners most of the attention. Dylan Taylor, Ashton Goodin, Trent Bivins, Garrett Peavey and Dylan Windham have been strong on the mound. But senior reliever Lorne Barineau has been impressive, especially in the postseason. The senior was the Game 3 starter and winner on Thursday in the semifinals against Irwin County.

But Cheek said the offensive approach has been different this season.

"We've played a lot of small ball, which I kind of like," he said. "We've hit more home runs in the playoffs than we did the entire regular season. We hit five in the regular season and eight in the playoffs. But it feels like everything is starting to come together."

Schley County met Gordon Lee in the 2017 Class 1A Public state championship series at Rome's State Mutual Stadium with the Wildcats sweeping the series.

But slowing down Gordon Lee will be the ultimate challenge. The No. 1-ranked Trojans haven't lost since March 30, and they're riding a 17-game winning streak. They are 16-0 in postseason games the past two years.

"My biggest fear going into this year was our guys getting complacent," Gordon Lee coach Mike Dunfee said. "I hoped they just weren't satisfied because they got a state title (last year)."

Gordon Lee is also looking to join Charlton County and Schley County as the only teams in the Class 1A Public division to win multiple state titles. This is the Trojans' fifth trip to the state championship series. They finished as state runner-up in 2013-14 and 2017.

Pitchers Jake Wright and Jake Poindexter have been the team's 1-2 pitching punch in the postseason. Meanwhile, a host of standouts including catcher Chris Potter, infielders JD Day and Hunter Hodson and outfielder Justin Wooden have put up some solid offensive numbers.

Dunfee said the team's motto has been "No Flinch."

"They just play for the love of each other other," he said. "We trailed 6-0 in the region championship game going into the sixth inning and I was kind of freaking out. But they were looking around like it was no big deal, kind of like they had this."


Class 1A Private

Who: Savannah Christian (28-7) vs. Tattnall Square (33-3)

Where: Grayson Stadium, Savannah, Ga.

When: May 21 (DH), if game May 22

It hasn't been the easiest season for Savannah Christian baseball coach Carl Carter. Injuries took a toll, but even Carter admitted the 2019 season has been fun.

"These guys have worked hard at practice, and they are a fun group to watch," Carter said. "And these guys are pretty committed."

The Raiders will meet Tattnall Square for the Class 1A Private school state championship. If it looks like a re-run, it is.

These two schools met for the 2017 Class 1A Private championship with Savannah Christian sweeping the Trojans at Grayson Stadium. Ironically, it was the last playoff series that Tattnall Square has lost. The Trojans are 14-2 in eight postseason series the past two seasons.

Carter said the Raiders have played this season without two of their top players in senior pitcher/infielder Jarrett Brown and junior infielder/pitcher Kyle Hilton. But he said that gave other players a chance to step into the spotlight, players like first baseman Mark Langston, outfielders Cam Crosby and Owen Kieffer, pitcher James Portzer and senior third baseman Jonathan Forbes.

The Hall of Fame coach cited Wednesday's Game 3 victory, a 3-2 walk-off win against Wesleyan , as an example. With two outs, Garrett Bradley's RBI triple in the bottom of the seventh tied the game at 2. Then Bradley stole home on a wild pitch to win the best-of-three series.

"That guy is normally our catcher, but he has come in to pitch and play shortstop," Carter said. "We have a lot of guys like that who play wherever you need them to play."

In Joey Hiller's two decades of coaching at Tattnall Square, he said the Trojans have never made the state baseball championship series for four straight years, not even when Tattnall Square dominated the Georgia Independent Schools Association before becoming a Georgia High School Association member in 2015. The defending champions also won the Class 1A Private state championship in 2016.

"That's incredible," Hiller said. "That's a tribute to our coaching staff, the athletes, their families and all the people involved in the program."

Two of the Trojans' losses have come in the playoffs. Their pitching rotation has been the backbone as ace Brooks Gorman and Dawson Brown, who recently returned from an injury, lead the way. But Bo Hatcher, Carter Fink and Trey Ham gave the Trojans quality innings in an 8-7 victory over Hebron Christian in Game 3 of the semifinal round. Ham is usually the team's catcher. He along with infielder Miles Morris and outfielder BJ Spears are two of the team's offensive catalysts.

Getting Brown back has been huge for the Trojans. Hiller knows Savannah Christian will be a tough challenge.

"We know what Jarrett Brown and Kyle Hilton are capable of," he said. "They've gotten them back, and we've just really got Dawson back. It should be a great series."