Lambert’s baseball team is four wins away from a state championship, but in a sense, the Longhorns only feel two-thirds of the way there.
Before the 2014 season began, head coach Jamie Corr laid out three main goals: amass 20 wins, claim a region crown and bring the program its first state championship. Lambert quickly crossed off No. 1, triumphing in each of its first 20 contests, and took home a Region 6-AAAAAA title with relative ease.
Now, the third and biggest challenge is in sight. After sweeping Luella on Wednesday, the Longhorns are off to face Parkview in the Final Four on Monday with a trip to the Class AAAAAA championship on the line.
But the Longhorns refuse to let the significance of these upcoming matchups affect how they approach the game. Instead, they plan on sticking with the same mentality they’ve used all season.
With a 32-1 overall record, it’s hard to blame them.
"We just worry about the process," Corr said. "We don’t worry too much about reaching (the championship). If we just concentrate on the process day in and day out, hopefully it will come."
Sophomore Seth Beer continues to lead the way offensively for the Longhorns, batting .646 on the year with nine home runs, 21 doubles and 55 RBIs. His outrageous .709 on-base percentage, which has been aided by numerous intentional walks during the postseason, has allowed him to score 46 times.
The only Lambert player with more runs than Beer is lead-off hitter Jeremy Johnson, who has crossed the plate on 56 occasions and has reached base 57.5 percent of the time. In addition to Johnson and Beer, three other regulars—Ian Kimbrell, Kyle McCann and Tucker Maxwell—have posted an on-base percentage higher than .500.
On the mound, Dylan Biumi continues to pace the Longhorns. The senior righty has started all Game 1s in the playoffs through three rounds, and enters the Final Four with a 0.97 ERA in 50 1/3 innings. JD Dutka, who has started all Game 2s, has seen his ERA jump a bit in recent weeks, but has maintained respectable numbers.
Beer, who hasn’t thrown much during the postseason, has enjoyed success just about every time he’s toed the rubber. In 10 appearances he’s racked up a 7-0 record and surrendered only 28 hits in 36 1/3 innings. Opponents have struggled to make contact against him, as he’s fanned 1.16 batters per inning.
In the field, Lambert has avoided making costly errors, and has a fielding percentage (95.3) a full percent above its opponents (94.3). Much of the Longhorns’ success in this regard can be attributed to shortstop Trey Logan, who has made several highlight-worthy plays of late, and catcher Kyle McCann, who has developed into a reliable backstop.
"I like where we’re at as a ball club," Corr said. "I think we’re doing a great job of attacking the zone on the mound, the batters are doing a great job of situational hitting and in the field we’re making the routine plays defensively."
Parkview (28-5) will be one of the more difficult opponents Lambert has faced in 2014.
Junior Ian Gilliam has been an offensive force for the Panthers, posting a .373 batting average in 33 games to go along with nine homers. Senior Jordan Kelly poses a threat at the dish, as well, hitting .385 thus far.
On the mound, the Panthers are up there with the best staffs in Georgia. Senior Mac Marshall has been dominant all season, winning all nine of his decisions with a microscopic 0.58 ERA. Gilliam has been just as good on the mound as he’s been at the plate—if not better—tossing a team-high 36 2/3 innings, most of which have come as a reliever. He’s tallied 10 saves on the year, giving Parkview a dominant force at the back end of the bullpen.
"They are a very strong club," Corr said of the Panthers. "They do all the little things right. They certainly aren’t going to shoot themselves in the foot, so we have to go over there and play a solid series."
Beating Parkview will be no easy task, and a third game may very well be necessary to decide the victor. Should that happen, the Longhorns are confident they can brush off a loss and continue to play their brand of baseball.
After taking down Mill Creek 7-3 in Game 3 of the second round, Lambert has proven capable of rebounding from a tough defeat.
"These kids have always been challenged with a tough schedule, so winning and losing has never really been a factor," Corr said. "We just concentrate on how many solid innings we can play all year."