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Lewis-Polite wins DCSS Teacher of the Year April 17, 2014

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

LEESBURG -- Playing baseball in May is a right of passage at Lee County High.

The Trojans haven't missed the GHSA playoffs since 2002 and won their seventh region title in the past nine years last week to clinch the Region 1-AAAA No. 1 seed for today's first-round playoff opener at home.

"Everybody wants to be playing this time of year," said Trojans senior Chase Patrick, who fought back from a season-ending shoulder injury his junior year and leads Lee with seven homers from his leadoff spot. "It's the funnest part of the year. We'll go out here and have fun. We'll be fine."

The only problem? Well, Lee County hasn't extended its playoff run very far into May lately, failing to advance past the second round the previous two seasons. Two wins in the first-round, best-of-three series today against Jones County, Region 3-AAAA's No. 4 seed, would be big in more ways than one.

First and foremost for head coach Rob Williams, two wins advance the Trojans to the second round. But historically, those wins could be even bigger for Williams, who is two victories shy of career win No. 500 since taking over the Trojans program 23 years ago.

Only a handful of active high school baseball coaches in Georgia has reached that mark. Of course, Williams, who won his 14th region title as head coach this season and has an overall record of 498-176, distanced himself from the milestone mark on the eve of the playoffs.

"That's not what is important right now," he said.

Williams' players also said the 500 wins hasn't been mentioned, and they, too, preferred to focus on today's doubleheader against a team that was in their region last season. Lee County and Jones County begin at 5 p.m. with the second game to follow 30 minutes after the first. Game 3, if necessary, will be played Saturday at 4 p.m.

Lee County (15-10) has gotten hot at the right time, winning six of its final seven region games. Jones County may be the best No. 4 seed in the state after going 20-5 during the regular season in powerful Region 3-AAAA.

The tough draw in the first round isn't worrying Patrick, who hit .500 in the last week of the season and scored six runs in a region title-clinching sweep of Northside, Columbus.

"Not really," he said of being concerned about the daunting first-round matchup. "I feel confident we could have been 20-5 if we started out the year like we should have."

Senior catcher Chase Griffin, like the Trojans, got off to a slow start to the season but has begun to swing the bat of late. Griffin, who hit .444 with 34 RBI as a junior and signed with Georgia Southern, is hitting .315 with 22 RBI this year. Personally, Griffin said, the season hasn't gone the way he hoped, but he commended his team for rallying down the stretch.

"Everybody has stepped up and done their part," Griffin said. "I'm proud of everybody this year."

Guys like junior Pedro Cruz (.424 avg., 27 RBI), junior Nate Gay (.413 avg.) and sophomore Daniel Nichols (.415 avg., 27 RBI) have given the Trojans some thump in the top half of the lineup.

Lee County has also developed a solid 1-2 pitching punch with Cole Goodwin and Chase Burnfin. Goodwin (5-3, 3.47 ERA) will start the opener, while Burnfin (6-3, 4.75 ERA) will throw in the nightcap today.

Neither has an overpowering fastball, but both have been clutch in big region games.

"Years past, everybody threw 85 (mph) and above," Griffin said. "(Burnfin) is probably the only one who can touch 85. They've got great offspeed (stuff) and hit their spots. (They) don't let the mental side of the game affect them."

The Trojans had to play on the road in the playoffs for the first time in a decade last season, but won't have to do so this year until at least the quarterfinals if they keep winning.

"It's been fun," Patrick, who is just under .400 at the plate, said of his senior year. "Hopefully it'll continue to be fun."