ACING THE TEST
Druid Hills at Forsyth Central
When, where: Friday, 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Forsyth Central High School in Cumming; Saturday, 2 p.m., if necessary.
Records, rankings: Druid Hills is 13-10, seeded No. 4 and unranked; Central is 21-4, seeded No. 1 and ranked No. 5.
On the mound (projected): Parker Morrison, 7-1, 56 strikeouts, 2.07 ERA; Ryan Cox, 8-1, 32 strikeouts, 1.88 ERA; Ethan Hankins, 5-2, 38 strikeouts, 2.87 ERA.
What’s next: Winner will face South Effingham or Jones County in the second round on May 4.
Mountain View at Lambert
When, where: Friday, 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Lambert High School in Suwanee; Saturday, 2 p.m., if necessary.
Records, rankings: Mountain View is 17-9, 9-5, seeded No. 4 and unranked; Lambert is 21-5, seeded No. 1 and ranked No. 6.
On the mound (projected): Cole Varner, 8-1, 55 strikeouts, 0.014 ERA; Zach Graveno, 8-0, 59 strikeouts, 0.14 ERA; Turner Scruggs, 5-3, 49 strikeouts, 1.52 ERA.
What’s next: Winner will face Lakeside-DeKalb or Westlake in the second round on May 4.
North Gwinnett at North Forsyth
When, where: Friday, 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., at North Forsyth High School in Coal Mountain; Saturday, Noon, if necessary.
Records, rankings: North Gwinnett is 17-9, seeded No. 3 and unranked; North Forsyth is 17-9, seeded No. 2 and unranked.
On the mound (projected): Tyler Koch, 4-0, 34 strikeouts, 0.48 ERA; J.B. Finnemore, 3-0, 47 strikeouts, 1.52 ERA; Andrew Grogan, 3-4, 47 strikeouts, 4.02 ERA.
What’s next: Winner will face Rockdale County or South Cobb in the second round on May 4.
West Forsyth at Collins Hill
When, where: Friday, 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., at Collins Hill High School in Suwanee; Saturday, 3 p.m., if necessary.
Records, rankings: West Forsyth is 15-11, seeded No. 3 and unranked; Collins Hill is 19-6, seeded No. 2 and ranked No. 7.
On the mound (projected): Jay Thompson, 4-2, 1.86 ERA; Bryar Hawkins, 3-0, 1.11 ERA; Hank Flood, 2-3, 2.12 ERA.
What’s next: Winner will face East Coweta or Newton in the second round on May 4.
Last year’s state baseball playoffs were short lived in Forsyth County. All five public schools made the postseason, with Lambert carrying the torch of defending state champion and Forsyth Central riding high on a renaissance after winning its first region title in 18 seasons, but all four Region 6-AAAAAA schools were eliminated in the opening round. As for the Bulldogs, their feel-good run had a sour ending at home in the second round against Jones County.
Lambert (21-5), Central (21-4), North Forsyth (17-9) and West Forsyth (15-11) are back in playoff action Friday—all of them have been vocal about getting back to the playoffs and breaking through as the season has gone on.
If there’s any reason to believe one, or a few of these teams can make a deep playoff run, look no further than the pitching staffs. In three-game series, which begin with double headers tonight, having a three-headed staff that can go deep into games is paramount.
Central head coach Kevin McCollum might have a better feel for managing his staff through such a series. Unlike the Class AAAAAA schools, which play home and away against region opponents, the Bulldogs have played three-game series in region all year.
“We’ve had plenty of double headers. The relievers definitely don’t get as much rest, and you never really know what’s going to happen,” McCollum said. “But I think we have a lot of guys who haven’t even had opportunities this year who would be really good, we just have three starters who can go a long way. Baseball is about consistency, and the more consistent you can be, the better.”
Down in Suwanee, the Longhorns know all about consistency.
Lambert, which boasted a high-powered offense last year with the likes of Jeremy Johnson, Seth Beer and J.D. Dutka, has settled itself into an altered identity—a pitching machine. The team’s stats between its three regular starters are, well, close to unreal.
Combined, the Longhorns trio of Cole Varner, Turner Scruggs and Zach Graveno are 21-4 with an average ERA of 0.56. Graveno has a team-best 0.14 ERA. Varner averages a team-high 1.28 strikeouts per frame.
Lambert has won its last 12 games in state (it split two games against elite competition on spring break in Florida) and has pitched 11 shutouts this season.
Over at Central, the Bulldogs have had similar success. Ryan Cox and Parker Morrison are 15-2, both having just one loss, with ERAs of 1.88 and 2.07, respectively. Even sophomore Ethan Hankins, an early commit to powerhouse Vanderbilt—the house that David Price built—is 5-2 in seven starts with a 2.87 ERA.
Central is arguably coming in the hottest as it prepares to take on the Class AAAAA gauntlet by itself. The Bulldogs, back-to-back Region 7-AAAAA champions after stomping Dalton, 17-5, to sweep the championship series on April 21, have won 15 of their last 16 contests.
Even North, which has scattered starts a bit more than the top two teams in the county, has two undefeated pitchers in Georgia State signee Tyler Koch and unheralded gunslinger J.B. Finnemore, who pitched a no-hitter earlier in the season. Koch and Finnemore are 7-0 combined through 11 starts, having 81 strikeouts amongst them. Koch, who also plays outfield for the Raiders, has still managed an elite ERA of 0.48. North’s only outlier, Andrew Grogan (3-4), battled a shoulder strain mid-season that hampered his throwing ability.
West, which is replacing the likes of last year’s aces in Addison Albright (UGA) and Derrick Pickvet (North Georgia), has been settling into its staff as the season has gone on, with Jay Thompson leading the way. Bryar Hawkins, also one of the team’s top hitters, has flashed ability with a 3-0 record in five starts and a 1.11 ERA. Seasoned veteran Hank Flood has had his ups and downs but is striking out an impressive eight batters per game, and Ryan Ferguson, Tanner Chafin, Matt Moch and Greg Jones have mixed in considerable bullpen work.
Nevertheless, if you like strong pitching and defensive baseball, making it out to a state playoff game this weekend — and hopefully the week after — will be well worth your time.