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Baseball: Previews on first round state playoff series
PA WPatota web
Will Patota and a potent Pinecrest Academy lineup hope to make the most of the program's first state playoff appearance since joining the GHSA. - photo by Brian Paglia

Forsyth Central at Parkview

When: Friday, 5 and 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 2 p.m., if necessary.

Records, rankings, seedings: Central is 19-11, unranked in Class 7A and the No. 3 seed from Region 5-7A; Parkview is 26-4, ranked No. 2 and the No. 2 seed from Region 7.

What to know: The jump up to the state’s highest qualification didn’t seem to bother the Bulldogs. They’re in the state playoffs for the third straight season, the longest streak for the program since making the playoffs four consecutive years from 1995-98.

Central has the most important ingredient for the state playoffs: a deep pitching staff. The Bulldogs have three college committed starters in Ethan Hankins (5-1, 0.16 ERA, 72 K), Ryan Cox (4-3, 2.68 ERA, 53 K) and Mitchell Gross (1-3, 2.60 ERA, 37 K). If any falter, Davis Smith (3-0, 1.72 ERA) and Alex Andrew (1-1, 2.58 ERA, 4 SV) can stabilize things out of the bullpen.

Of course, Parkview has that ingredient too with Braden Hays (8-0, 1.37 ERA, 51 K), Caleb Mitchell (7-1, 1.09 ERA, 54 K) and Robert Bennett (5-1, 1.73 ERA, 35 K). Cody Collett (4-0, 0.30 ERA, 32 K) can start or come out of the bullpen. All four are college-bound lefties. 

What’s next: Will face the McEachern-Colquitt County winner.

 

Norcross at West Forsyth

When: Friday, 5 and 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Noon, if necessary

Records, rankings, seedings: Norcross is 14-13, unranked in Class 7A and the No. 3 seed from Region 7-7A; West is 16-13, unranked and the No. 2 seed from Region 5.

What to know: The Wolverines are right about where they wanted to be: hosting a first-round state playoff series for the second time in three season.

They got there with a gritty lineup that, outside of senior shortstop and Clemson signee Bryar Hawkins (.369, nine 2Bs, four HRs, 14 RBIs), hit just .242 and a solid pitching staff that sported a 2.14 ERA in the regular season, led by senior Hank Flood (4-3, 1.13 ERA in 49 2/3 innings), Ryan Ferguson (2-0, 1.27 ERA in 22 innings) and Hawkins (3-1, 2.00 ERA in 35 innings). West is looking for its first state playoff series win since 2009.

But Norcross is a talented bunch in their own right. Many of this year’s Blue Devils were on last season’s team that reached the state semifinals, including Division I signees Darius Foster (Oregon State) and Baron Radcliff (Georgia Tech).

What’s next: Will face the Roswell-Hillgrove winner.

 

Lakeside-DeKalb at Lambert

When: Friday, 4:30 and 7 p.m.; Saturday, if necessary

Records, rankings, seedings: Lakeside is 18-9, unranked in Class 7A and the No. 4 seed from Region 7-7A; Lambert is 18-13, ranked No. 10 and the No. 1 seed from Region 5.

What to know: These two teams met in the second round of the Class 6A state playoffs last season. Lambert swept that series with 2-0 and 10-0 wins.

That, of course, was with a much different roster than the one the Longhorns have now, but the results up to this point have been the same: a region championship and No. 1 seed in the state playoffs. What this Longhorns team may lack in hitting depth they make up for with fundamentals, timeliness and a solid pitching staff, led by College of Charleston signee Zach Keenan (5-3, 2.26 ERA).

The Vikings have four regulars in the lineup who hit over .300, led by senior Kiernan Acklin (.438, nine 2Bs, four HRs, 27 RBIs). He’s also the team’s closer with five saves and a 1.75 ERA in 12 innings. But the Longhorns will want to get to starters Beau McKenna (5-3, 4.20 ERA) and Michael Hannah (5-0, 2.38 ERA) and expose a pitching staff with a 4.35 ERA.

What’s next: Will face the Lowndes-North Paulding winner.

 

Pinecrest Academy at Strong Rock Christian

When: Friday, 3:30 and 6 p.m.; Saturday, 1 p.m., if necessary.

Records, rankings, seedings: Pinecrest is 12-12, unranked in Class 1A and the No. 20 seed; Strong Rock is 17-9, unranked and the No. 13 seed.

What to know: The Paladins’ presence in the state playoffs is historical in itself; it’s the first time since Pinecrest joined the GHSA. But the Paladins have a chance to make more history.

If they do, it might be because of a lineup that hit .313 during the regular season. Citadel football commitment Ryan McCarthy (.468, 7 HR, 19 RBI) has led the way, but the Paladins have other mashers in Will Patota (.400, 5 HR, 23 RBI), Caleb Bohn (.394, 13RBI) and Ben Gobbel (.379, 2 HR, 16RBI).

They’ll need to keep that up to help a pitching staff with a 4.78 ERA. Sophomore ace Patrick O’Rourke has been a revelation for the Paladins, going 5-2 with a 3.24 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings. Bohn (3-2, 3.76 ERA) and Gobbel (0-0, 3.06 ERA) have thrown solid innings too, but Pinecrest lacks overall depth on the staff.

What’s next: Will face Athens Christian.