South Forsyth baseball coach Russ Bayer knows the cyclical nature of high school athletics, and before the War Eagles’ practice on Tuesday, he didn’t need to look further than a few feet to either side of him for evidence of that.
There was the sign on South’s press box commemorating the War Eagles’ state playoff appearances: Four straight from 2007-2010, and then just two in the seven years that followed. And then, standing out in the rain that had moved South’s practice into the gym were Landon Sims and Ben Ferrer, two members of the War Eagles’ pitching rotation that just drove them to a 14-1 region record and a No. 1 playoff seed. Their first-round series against Peachtree Ridge is set to begin on Thursday.
Those two players’ absences contributed to South’s skid at the end of last season’s region schedule, when the War Eagles lost five of its last six region games.
Bayer could take solace in the arms that South was returning, though.
“We knew two years ago, when most of these guys were sophomores and freshmen, what we were going to have on the mound,” Bayer said.
Over the offseason, Bayer put in a throwing program that he thought would better keep the team’s arms healthy, and South’s exceptional pitching depth has also created a favorable environment.
But if none of that had happened, if South had missed the playoffs again? Bayer wouldn’t say whether he imagined that scenario playing out, and Sims and Ferrer said they didn’t even consider that possibility heading into the season.
“We felt pretty confident,” Ferrer said.
And just as the War Eagles hit a high, other area teams, even the No. 1 and 2 seeds from 2017, were at a low. Lambert and West, the two squads that had those seeds last season, both missed the playoffs.
Bayer saw those teams as talented groups that were unfortunate in close games and would have been in the playoffs in most other regions in the state. He thought the same of the North Forsyth team in 2017 that went 1-6 in region play in games decided by one or two runs. Naturally, this year's Raiders are back in the playoffs, as a No. 4 seed.
“Jim had a great team last year,” Bayer said. “I thought we had a great team last year, and we happened to have a, really, a five-game skid. Well, in professional baseball, five games is not even an afterthought. (With) what we have, those little things really get put under a microscope and can magnify quickly.”
That’s the reality of a 15- or 30-game schedule, and it’s even more so in a two- or three-game series against a Peachtree Ridge team that went 21-9.
“They’re obviously not going to be something that we’re going to walk right over,” Sims said.
And just as the state championship run that South made in 2009 came the year before Lambert opened and took a large portion of the War Eagles’ enrollment, this year’s playoff excursion comes the year before the opening of Denmark High School will have a similar effect.
After all, the cycle comes for everyone.