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STATE PREP BASEBALL PLAYOFFS: Local GISA capsules (Southland, SGA, Sherwood and Terrell Academy)

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

Class AAA

Southland Raiders

REGION/SEED: Region 3, No. 3.

RECORD: 10-9 overall, 5-3 in region.

OPPONENT: Region 2, No. 2 George Walton.

SOUTHLAND'S KEYS TO VICTORY: Finishing games strong. Southland actually played George Walton earlier this year when it came to Albany for a doubleheader -- one game against Deerfield and one against Southland -- as the Raiders led, 5-0, heading into the fourth inning and even had a no-hitter going. But the Raiders -- as has been the case during many games this season -- scored early and often, but simply folded late as GW went on to score seven runs in the fourth and win, 10-5. The fact that Southland was posting a shutout at one point -- and against GW's No. 1 pitcher, no less -- bodes well for the team's confidence heading into the three-game series. In fact, here's a stat that best illustrates Southland's ability to jump on teams early, but then not finish like it should: The Raiders have scored in the first inning in 17 of its 19 games this season, and have led all 19 games at one point or another. But with a 10-9 record, late-game collapses have been this team's Achilles heel.

GAME ANALYSIS: The return of sophomore stud Ryan Johnson, who was on his way to becoming the team's best pitcher before he injured his knee early in the season, has given the Raiders a boost in confidence heading into this series, though Johnson likely will only be used in relief. That means Southland's ace, Collin Holloway, will be enormously key after posting an impressive 1.30 ERA this season and 5-2 record -- with just four walks all year -- while topping 80 MPH quite often. Holloway beat region champ Deerfield in their first meeting, then lost in the second one, so he is the Raiders' big-game guy they want on the mound. Unfortunately, Southland doesn't hit the ball extremely well and will need great opening innings from Holloway and then strong closing innings from Johnson. The good news? Most of the lax hitting outings have come against lesser opponents, while Southland seems to rise to the occasion in big games like the ones ahead of it today.

COACH SAYS: Southland's Tim Goodin -- "I told the kids (Thursday) that maybe our not being able to hit the ball well for a good part of the year will play in our favor -- because the law of averages says we have to start hitting it sometime. So maybe that time is now."

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Class AA

SGA Warriors

REGION/SEED: Region 3, No. 2 SGA.

RECORD: 12-5 overall, 4-3 Region 3-AA.

OPPONENT: Region 1, No. 3 Strong Rock Christian.

GAME TIME/LOCATION: Game 1 today at 4 p.m. in Damascus; Game 2 will be Saturday at 1 p.m., followed 30 minutes later by Game 3, if necessary.

SGA'S KEYS TO VICTORY: Winning Game 1 against Strong Rock ace, Kelsey Moore. SGA is wary of Moore because he's not only an experienced senior who has been to this point before, but he's got a dangerous change-up, knuckle ball and can throw the curve about three of four different ways, which often confuses batters. It's important to get through Game 1 for another reason: The Warriors will also throw their ace, Dillon Driver, who has an ERA of 3.00, but he's been put to the test against the team's toughest opponents all season -- and also is the most rested of any of the staff's pitchers. If SGA loses Game 1, the Warriors will have some tired arms to throw in Game 2 and possibly Game 3 on Saturday after they just finished a doubleheader rain-out series with Windsor on Wednesday to determine which spot in the playoffs they'd garner.

GAME ANALYSIS: For SGA to advance, it will have to continue to build on its staggering team batting average that features not a single player hitting under .300. The leader is Parker Adams, who is hitting .500, followed by Austin Boyd, who is batting .400 and Danny Doster and Taylor Tabb. Tabb always seems to find a way to get on base and Doster is a power hitter who can send one long on any given pitch. But those four players don't even begin to tell the whole story about what SGA's bats can do. In Wednesday's doubleheader sweep on Windsor, all nine Warriors in the starting lineup finished with at least one hit in both games -- and that's exactly the kind of outing. if it happens again --- that could propel the Warriors into the second round.

COACH SAYS: SGA's Tommy Manry -- "I would rather be playing at home than away, that's for sure. Heck, we're hoping (Strong Rock) can't even find Damascus."

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Sherwood Christian

REGION/SEED: Region 3, No. 4.

RECORD: 8-7 overall, 1-5.

OPPONENT: Region 1, No. 1 Brentwood.

GAME TIME/LOCATION: Game 1 today at 4 p.m; Game 2 will be Saturday at 1 p.m., followed 30 minutes later by Game 3, if necessary.

SHERWOOD'S KEYS TO VICTORY: Zane Hood. It's not often you put the success of the team on one player's shoulders, but in the case of Hood -- who came over this past offseason from baseball powerhouse Lee County as a transfer -- he'll need to put together one of the best series of his young career to help lift Sherwood. Hood leads the team in batting average (.400) and home runs (5), but what's even more remarkable is how he rebounded from a scary moment earlier this season to not only return -- but return better than ever. Against Southland, Hood was hit in the face by a ball while on the mound and had to be taken to the hospital. He was OK, and when he returned a week later, he went right back to what he does best: multi-hit games and lockdown pitching from the mound. Like the rest of his team -- which only got into this year's postseason because it's in a four-team region after Valwood dropped baseball at the end of last year -- Hood has struggled some. But overall, when Hood has a great day, so do the Eagles.

GAME ANALYSIS: Sherwood finished the season strong with two big wins, including against the only common opponent shared between SCA and Brentwood: Crisp Academy. Their margins of victory were roughly the same, but those wins gave the Eagles much-needed confidence heading into this No. 4 vs. No. 1 matchup today, and it's hard to shake or rattle a team with momentum. Clay Wyatt will start Game 1 today and will need to set the tone early, throwing strikes and getting ahead in the count, while Hood -- who is almost as valuable behind the plate as SCA's catcher as he is anywhere else -- will get the call in Game 2. But keep an eye on Andrew Lanier, who is returning slowly from injury, but has shown flashes of his old self in SCA's last couple of games and will be a welcome addition back for the Eagles. Also, not to be overlooked is the other three sluggers on the team with numbers comparable to Hood's: John Schramm, who is second on the team with four homers, Wyatt and Hunter Hatcher. If just two of these guys -- or all four -- have moderate to solid days at the plate, SCA could be primed for a massive first-round upset. Of course, traveling three hours to play isn't ideal for any team, so as long as they eat a good lunch and don't get nervous or antsy during the long ride, SCA will hop off the bus ready to roll.

COACH SAYS: Sherwood's Alan McWilliams -- "We're staying overnight and only playing one game on Friday, then Game 2 (and maybe Game 3) on Saturday. But even if we lose the first game and it's rough, we'll have the night to go back to our hotel, refocus, reset and come back out Saturday with a new outlook. And if we win (Game 1), we'll be very confident coming into Saturday."

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Class A

Terrell Academy Eagles

REGION/SEED: Region 3, No. 2.

RECORD: 14-7 overall, 6-2 in Region 3-A

OPPONENT: Region 1, No. 3 Briarwood.

GAME TIME/LOCATION: Game 1 at 2 p.m. today in Dawson, followed by Game 2, 30 minutes later. Game 3, if necessary, will be played Saturday at noon.

TERRELL ACADEMY'S KEYS TO VICTORY: Senior leadership. There were seven juniors on the Eagles' roster in 2009 who had to watch as local rival Randolph Southern hoisted the Class A state championship last season after beating TAE in the all-Southwest Georgia final. Cole Phillips, Wes Lawton, Colby Blackburn, Matt Brown, Cole Byrd and Hogan Skandamis were all a part of last year's team, while Westover transfer Lance Shernisky came in this season and has heard enough about that crushing loss to know the only way to get past what happened in 2009 is redemption in 2010. The experience of the Eagles is one reason why they only lost two region games and earned a No. 2 seed this season, while Randolph Southern will be a No. 3 after losing most of last year's key players from its title team to graduation.

GAME ANALYSIS: The Eagles don't know much about Briarwood -- and really don't care. That's because the onus is on Briarwood to come to Dawson for this game and beat Terrell on its home field if they want to advance. And as long as Shernisky -- today's Game 1 starter -- and Phillips, who will likely start Game 2, take care of business, Briarwood could have A-Rod's son playing for them, and it won't matter. Shernisky and Phillips both have identical 6-2 records, while Shernisky's ERA is slightly better (2.22) than Phillips' (3.23), but each have been equally effective in big-game situations and can shut down teams as long as they're hitting their spots. The Eagles will also need another big game from Blackburn, who has been their offensive leader all season, batting .414 with 29 RBI and five home runs. And, just like the case has been all year, if Blackburn is on, so is Terrell.

COACH SAYS: Terrell Academy's Ashley Walker -- "The loss to Randolph Southern (last year) is still on our minds and I told the kids the same thing this week as I did when the season began: 'This season is all about unfinished business. We know the tough road we have ahead of us, but it can be done.' "

-- Compiled by Danny Aller/danny.aller@albanyherald.com