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Baseball: Pitching talent abounds in region, creating challenge for bats
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Forsyth Central pitcher Ethan Hankins delivers a pitch during the 2017 season. - photo by Micah Green

As he stood next to his team’s dugout after one of the last practices before the high school baseball season gets started, Forsyth Central head baseball coach Kevin McCollum contemplated the question of how the Bulldogs would score runs during this year’s Region 5-7A schedule.

“That’s a good question,” McCollum said.

This year is considered to be an exceptionally good one for high school baseball talent in the state of Georgia, and Forsyth County isn’t missing out.

It hadn’t resulted in a friendly environment for area hitters, though. There’s Ethan Hankins, one of the top high school draft prospects in the country, the reigning All-County Pitcher of the Year and the ace of Central’s staff. Directly behind him in the rotation, there’s Mitchell Gross, a refined lefty who committed to Georgia before his sophomore season even started. Every other county team has at least one starting pitcher that’s signed or committed to a Division I program, and Milton has a few, too, including Under Armour All-American Ben Harris.

“It's going to be a lot of one and two-run ballgames (this season), and I don't think that's really a secret.”  South Forsyth head coach Russ Bayer said. “I don't anticipate the region this year being dictated by two-run home runs and doubles in the gap.”

There will surely be a few home runs to go around, but the current picture of talent in the region slants strongly towards the pitchers. Bayer’s team has three Division I arms of its own in the starting rotation: Landon Sims, committed to Mississippi State; Copper Davidson, signed to Austin Peay; and Ben Ferrer, signed to USC-Upstate.

Of course, most of the hitters in the region have faced plenty of college-caliber pitchers on the travel circuit, and they also have experience playing with and against many opponents from a young age.

And there are certain drills and techniques that can prepare a hitter for velocity. Before Sims, who also plays designated hitter for the War Eagles, faced Hankins in 2017, he went to the batting cages at Sharon Springs Park with his father, who set up extra close to Sims and threw pitches as hard as he could.

But there’s only so much meaningful preparation to be done.

“If we’re thinking too much, we’re probably already beat,” Bayer said.

Some strategic adjustments are to be expected, like a greater emphasis on team-oriented offense, with more bunts or grounders the other way, than would be seen during the summer showcase season. And some hitters, like South’s Bradley Prince Jr., who was committed to Purdue for a time before signing with Grayson College, a two-year school, are keen on high velocity.

“I like the velocity better, because you don’t have to swing as hard,” Prince Jr. said. “You just have to put a piece on the ball and see where it goes.”

There certainly aren’t any players cowering from the prospect of facing high-talent arms, at least publicly. Prince Jr. said he was most looking forward to facing Hankins – Prince Jr. hit a double off the Vanderbilt signee in one of their matchups last spring – and Central’s Bradlee Brooks and Greg Wozniak said they were anticipating facing Milton, which has Harris, a Virginia signee, Notre Dame commit Michael Allegri and Kentucky commit Cole Stupp.

Sims knows how it feels for both sides. He’ll be one of the high-talent pitchers teams are gearing up for, and he’ll also be one of the hitters getting amped up to face a potential draft pick. He knows the pitcher has the power in the matchup, but also that it can be exploited.

“The pressure’s really on them,” Sims said. “They’re expecting to get us out, everybody’s expecting them to get us out … I like to go up there with a relaxed mindset and do what you can do and be aggressive, because most of the pressure’s going to be on them.”

Forsyth County pitchers signed or committed to Division I colleges

·         Landon Sims, South Forsyth, committed to Mississippi State

·         Cooper Davidson, South Forsyth, signed with Austin Peay

·         Ben Ferrer, South Forsyth, signed with USC-Upstate

·         Ethan Hankins, Forsyth Central, signed with Vanderbilt

·         Mitchell Gross, Forsyth Central, committed to Georgia

·         Bowen Bock, West Forsyth, signed with Kennesaw State

          Cade Owens, West Forsyth, signed with Presbyterian

·         Brody Westbrooks, North Forsyth, committed to Georgia Tech

·         Aidan McAllister, Lambert, signed with Georgia Southern