Could the first half of the high school baseball season been any more exciting? Doubt it.
So as the season resumes in full coming off of spring break, the FCN's sports staff of Michael Foster and Brian Paglia take stock of the best pitchers, players, coaches and more of the first half.
PITCHER OF THE YEAR
Michael Foster, sports writer: North’s pitching staff is loaded: Dakota Chalmers, the Georgia commit, has been the big name in the rotation and scouts have followed, while Matthew Heard has been a steady neutralizer of opponent’s bats. But Caleb Dixon has been stellar. Dixon has a perfect 5-0 record so far this season and boasts a 1.42 ERA through 24 and 2/3 innings. He has 21 strikeouts against just six walks and pitched a complete game no-hitter on March 30.
Brian Paglia, Sports Editor: I wavered on this one for a while. North’s Dakota Chalmers or Caleb Dixon? West’s Derrick Pickvet or Hank Flood? South’s Anthony Trovato? Central’s Logan Howard or Parker Morrison? But Wednesday night sealed it for me. It’s Reed Clark. The Central senior, who signed with Western Carolina, is 4-1 with a 1.63 ERA in 38 2/3 innings with 56 strikeouts after holding Kell to one run over seven dominant innings to give the Bulldogs control of first place in Region 7-AAAAA, Div. B.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Foster: He’d get name of the year too, if that were a thing, but there’s no shame in settling for best baseball player in the county. Seth Beer (pictured right), committed to Clemson, has been the best player on arguably the best team in Forsyth, hitting .529 at the plate and posting a 1.27 ERA on the mound. Beer has led in the power category for the Longhorns with six home runs, and while he trails teammate J.D. Dutka slightly in most hitting categories (15 runs, 27 hits, eight doubles and 20 RBIs to Dutka’s 20, 28, 12, 22, respectively), he’s had 12 less plate appearances.
Paglia: It’s Beer. It has to be Beer. Yes, there are fantastic seasons going on across Forsyth County from the likes of JD Dutka (Beer’s teammate), Hank Flood, Justin Graczyk, Bryar Hawkins, Andres Perez, Michael Strait, Alec Wilson and on and on. But it’s Beer. It has to be Beer, for even though teams know what he’s capable of doing at the plate, he still delivers production unlike anyone in the county. No one else is hitting close to .529, like Beer. Or slugging 1.039, like Beer. Oh, and his 1.27 ERA in 22 innings on the mound is pretty impressive too.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Foster: West Forsyth head coach Mike Pruitt has a history in this county thanks to a stellar track record at Forsyth Central, where he took the Bulldogs to the state semis in the 90s, but he’s got a good thing going at West now, too. The Wolverines have asserted themselves as serious contenders to win Region 6-AAAAAA. While they aren’t blowing teams out like Lambert has, the Wolverines are giving up about three runs a game, scoring five, and finding ways to win consistently. They’ve won seven of their last nine games, with those two losses to Northview and Buford coming by a combined two runs. The offense has been powerful after a slow start to the season, which Pruitt attributed to a loose mindset he instilled in his team after playing tight through the first few weeks of the season.
Paglia: This category might be tougher to pick than the pitcher of the year. Anyone in contention for the state playoffs in Region 6-AAAAAA deserves consideration. News flash, that’s all four Forsyth County teams, so hats off so far to Lambert’s Drew Ferrer, North’s Jim Cahill, South’s Russ Bayer and West’s Mike Pruitt. But I’ll give my edge to Central’s Kevin McCollum. The Bulldogs were in first place in Region 7-AAAAA, Div. B at press time and in position to play for a region championship. Don’t pretend like you expected that before the season started. It helps having a starting pitcher trio of Reed Clark, Logan Howard and Parker Morrison, but he’s also instilled a gritty identity into a team that’s played eight one-run games including two in extra innings.
3 THINGS TO WATCH
1. Look out for West. Lambert and West stand 9-1 and 9-2 in region play, respectively, and haven’t faced each other yet. April 14 and 20 are the dates then these two teams will have at it for the first time all season. Lambert has essentially demolished every team in the region except North, who split the regular season series with a 2-1 win and 3-2 loss on an unconventional strikeout-walkoff. Those two dates will be prove-it games for West, while some humbling experiences for Lambert, throughout the season thus far, have seemingly lifted some weight off their shoulders. They might not be considered one of the top teams in the country as far as numbers are concerned, but they’re still the juggernaut in this county. At 8-4, North needs some help in region, but there’s plenty of time left and the Raiders have the pitching to sustain and fit in at the top, late.
2. Don’t forget about Central: Possibly lost among the Forsyth monopoly at the top of the Region 6-AAAAAA standings is the fact Forsyth Central is catching fire at just the right time. Much like West, recent losses for Central were by one run, but overall they’ve gone 8-2 in their last ten games and sit comfortably, at 9-2, in the Region 7-AAAAA-B standings. With a final series against North Springs, the last place team in the region, Central will have a very good shot at besting Kell for first place in the region.
3. Dakota Chalmers. Just keep watching him, if you’ve not been tuned in already. In his last start for North, he had his first significantly shaky start to the season, lasting just 2 and 1/3 innings after giving up five bases on balls. He was clearly overthrowing—arguably just really amped up thanks to a huge contingent of scouts at the park. Still, he’s considered the best pitching prospect in the county and it will be fun to watch how he finishes his season.
1. Forsyth County on top: If the regular season ended today, five of the county’s six baseball teams would be in the state playoffs, an awesome statement about the state of baseball in Forsyth County. It’d be a sweep of all four spots in Region 6-AAAAAA by Lambert, North, South and West, and Central would be hosting a first-round series in Class AAAAA. But, thankfully, there’s plenty of potential drama left. Lambert and West play twice (April 14 and 20), West and South play April 15 and South and Lambert play April 17. Central could be playing its cross-over series starting April 20 for the region title. My goodness, the season only figures to get more intense from here on out.
2. Hitting streak: I hate to potentially put the FCN jinx on someone, but I’ll be curious to follow South Forsyth’s Justin Graczyk as long as he’s got his hitting streak intact. As of press time, it stands at a remarkable 17 games. He hasn’t been hitless in a game since going 0-for-2 in South’s season-opener back in late February. Graczyk has led a strong War Eagles offense by hitting .426 with seven doubles, 16 RBIs and nine stolen bases. With South hanging on to fourth place in Region 6-AAAAAA, and the final state playoff berth, it needs Graczyk to keep hitting.
3. Second-half returns: Lambert junior outfielder Tucker Maxwell, a Georgia commit, has missed the last 14 games with a hamstring issue. Longhorns first baseman Ian Kimbrell has missed the last seven after rolling his ankle at the National High School Invitational. No matter. Darius Foster has hit .333 with a home run and 11 RBIs in place of Maxwell, Jake Tomelevage has filled in nicely for Kimbrell and Lambert has managed to stay atop the Region 6-AAAAAA standings. But surely Lambert will need a healthy Maxwell and Kimbrell if they hope to become the first team other than Parkview to win back-to-back state championships in the largest classification since 2000.