Trojans baseball hopes this will be the year after string of early exits

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

LEESBURG -- For the eighth straight year, Lee County's baseball team is back in the state playoffs -- those cruel, unforgiving best-of-three postseason series that have been so unkind to the Trojans lately.

Last year's upset loss to No. 4 seed Glynn Academy comes to mind.

There's one great thing about the past, though: You can always put it behind you.

That's what Lee County has done with last year's early exit -- which came at home, no less. It's in the rearview mirror left in a cloud of dust on one of Leesburg's many backcountry roads.

"I guess you can learn from your mistakes," junior catcher Chase Griffin said Wednesday just two days before the Trojans opened this year's state tournament today at home against Jonesboro. "Whenever you lose, you use (disappointment like) that as an advantage to get better."

The disappointing end to a 23-2 regular season in 2009 is still in the players' minds. Head coach Rob Williams, though, believes his team isn't anxious or nervous about the state playoff opener this go-round.

"I hope not," Williams said. "There's nothing we can do about last year. The only thing we can control is Game 1 (today)."

The Trojans (17-7), the No. 2 seed from Region 1-AAAA, open the state tournament as the host today with a doubleheader against Jonesboro (15-10), the No. 3 seed from Region 4-AAAA. First pitch is set for 5 p.m. with the second game following. The if-necessary Game 3 would be at 1 p.m. Saturday.

In case anyone is wondering, there won't be any looking ahead to a possible second-round matchup with state-ranked Lakeside-Evans.

"Not after last year," senior Justin McCalvin said. "We're taking it one game at a time."

As they should. Jonesboro will be no pushover after finishing third in a region that has two top five ranked teams in Ola and Alcovy as the top two seeds.

"(Jonesboro has) a lot of speed and two good pitchers who throw a lot of different pitches," Williams said of the scouting report on today's opponent. "It should be a good matchup."

The Trojans' regular season didn't come close to comparing to last year, which resulted in their first region No. 2 seed in a while and would likely send them on the road if they advance to Round 2.

Lee County players say it's no big deal. This team feels it has gotten stronger as the season has gone on, which is evident in its eight wins in the last 10 games.

"We did start a little slow, but we've definitely progressed," Griffin said. "We're starting to hit the ball a whole lot more. We've got the pitching to do it. We've just got to bring our bats around. That's going to be the key to it."

Those Trojans' bats pounded out 23 runs in a two-game sweep of Upson-Lee in the region playoffs and Lee County is averaging 9.5 runs a game in its last 10. And, of course, Williams will have his pick of starting pitchers from sophomore Jess Posey, junior Phillip Anderson and seniors Matthew Suggs and McCalvin.

With all those factors in their favor, there's good reason the Trojans have shown little to no nervousness headed into the first round. Not even a little.

"Nah," McCalvin said. "We're playing strong. (We hope to) keep our momentum going."