ALBANY - Don't get the Knights wrong. They're excited to be playing in the quarterfinals of the GISA Class AAA state baseball playoffs.
But with seven of nine starters returning, most had Deerfield-Windsor penciled in already. With the last state baseball title coming in 2003, the Knights think it's time to close out the season with a win after several close calls in the last few years.
"We're kind of like the Braves because we never actually finish," Knights senior Davis Moore said. "We make the playoffs every year and then we lose."
"Or the Yankees, minus the titles," senior pitcher and outfielder Rhett Cooper said.
Deerfield-Windsor, the No. 2 seed from Region 3-AAA, hosts Region 2-AAA No. 4 seed Arlington Christian in a best-of-three series beginning with today's doubleheader at 3 p.m. Saturday's Game 3, if necessary, has been moved up to noon.
Expectations of going deep into the playoffs every year are a good problem to have for head coach Rod Murray. The Knights lost in this round last year to Tattnall, the third consecutive year DWS fell to Tattnall in the playoffs.
"We feel like we've got our program in a situation where we hope to be playing late in May every year," said Murray, whose teams have made it to the quarterfinals each of his four years. "At the same time, we talk about not taking anything for granted. We're thankful we get to play as late as we do every year."
Under Murray, the Knights (16-7) have never been a No. 2 seed until now, thanks to two one-run losses to region champ Westfield. DWS also has never had to play a road playoff game. They're hosting this weekend's Elite 8 round only because Arlington Christian (10-7) upset No. 1 seed Dominion Christian in the first round.
"Once you get into the state tournament with the parity in our league, it really doesn't matter what seed you get," Murray said. "You can come out of it. We didn't win the region championship like we wanted to. You're not going to reach your goal every time, but how you respond from it and how you learn from it, that's the ultimate (goal)."
DWS is now mostly healthy with Moore and Cooper back in the lineup. Moore suffered from a hamstring injury and Cooper broke his hand in the dugout during a game. With their full offensive attack, the Knights pounded out 21 hits and 17 runs in their Game 2 win over Bulloch Academy.
Murray gives much of the credit for the offensive uptick to hitting coaches Ty and Melvin Kinslow.
Arlington, which also swept its first-round series, is led by leadoff hitter Charod Strickland at the plate. Strickland homered in the first round and most Knights remember him from the GISA football All-Star game, where he was one of the top running backs in the state.
"He's a good athlete," Cooper said.
Junior right-handed pitcher Nolan Huber shutout Dominion Christian last week to complete the sweep.
"They're very aggressive at the plate," Murray said of Arlington's hitting approach. "It's going to be a good series. It's supposed to be when you get to the quarterfinals in any league you play."
Knights' senior Chris Moates, who is hitting over .600 at the plate, will start Game 1 on the mound after giving up six runs in the playoff opener. Moates is 5-3 with an ERA around 2.50. Banks Kinslow, who leads the team in wins after picking up two victories against Bulloch in the first round, could pitch Game 2 or Murray could go with Cooper, who shut down the Gators, in relief of Kinslow in Game 2.
Waiting for the winner of the DWS-Arlington series in the Final Four will be either Tattnall Square or Tiftarea. The Knights swept Tiftarea during the regular season and are 1-6 in the playoffs the last three years against Tattnall.
Murray isn't looking ahead to the next round, but others are.
"I got a lot of other people that do that for me," Murray joked about forecasting a DWS-Tattnall series for the fourth consecutive year. "All we're talking about is just getting through this series."