CORDELE -- Today's first game of the best-of-three GISA Class A State Championship series between Westwood and Crisp Academy will mark exactly three months after the two Southwest Georgia schools -- who both employ Wildcats as their mascot -- met each other for the girls basketball state title.
Crisp won that game easily, 52-37, and hopes this series plays out the same way.
But if history is any indication -- the baseball teams split during the regular season -- this series will be anything but a gimme for either program.
"Our guys hope to accomplish the same results our girls basketball team did in its championship game with Westwood," said Crisp coach Brett Freeman, who led his Wildcats to this very same point last year, only to fall short against eventual state champ Citizen's Christian. "We know that's not going to be an easy accomplishment, though. They've got a very good ball club that features good hitting, good pitching and good defense, as well as a very impressive record."
In addressing Westwood's offensive punch, Freeman said what concerns him is that the fellow Wildcats have 5-6 players sporting batting averages of more than .400. Several of them also fall into the power-hitter category.
When it comes to pitching, Freeman said that while Westwood ace Douglas Nobles gets most of the attention, Freeman believes Nobles is not the only talented hurler on their staff.
"It's true that Nobles has won a ton of games (the most recent a no-hit, 12-strikeout, 14-0 semifinals decision over Memorial Day), but they've got some other good pitchers like Caleb Morrell, Jake Edore and Mason Worsham," Freeman said. "And when it comes to defense, they don't make a lot of mistakes. Morrell and Edore are especially solid at shortstop and third base, respectively, and Worsham does a very good job behind the plate.
"At this point, we're trying first of all to figure out how we're going to hit Nobles and whoever else they throw at us, and then how we're going to get out all their good hitters."
Freeman also praised Westwood's program as a whole.
"Overall, I have nothing but good things to say about their players and the job (head) coach (Al) Timmerman has done with them," said Freeman of the fact Westwood went 2-15 a year ago, but has had a remarkable turnaround this season, going 18-4, including nine wins in a row coming into today. "We know we'll have our work cut out against them."
Westwood has been a thorn in Crisp's side all season.
In thinking back to the first of the two regular-season battles between the Region 3-A foes -- who took turns flip-flopping the No. 1 and 2 rankings all year -- Freeman said his champion Wildcats, who currently hold the No. 1 ranking, got superb pitching in a 7-1 win back on April 15.
"Patrick (Fay, who'll start today's Game 1) struck out 11 batters in six innings of work and James Bodrey (who's set to start Game 2 later today) fanned three to close out the seventh as each (only) gave up a hit (Nobles homered off Fay and singled off Bodrey)," Freeman recalled. "Offensively, it took us a while to get going as Nobles had our number his first time through our line-up."
Freeman also remembers having to make a few coaching moves in the first meeting to pull out the win.
"We made some adjustments after that and got to him a little when they made a couple of errors," the coach added.
In his recollections of the rematch that Westwood won, 6-4, at home on April 22 behind the solid pitching of Nobles, Freeman said the home team did plenty of damage in the first couple of innings -- although the game was ultimately decided on a controversial call that's still being talked about from Camilla to Cordele.
The two-run difference that Westwood won by was made possible by a disputed two-run homer that Crisp contended was actually a ground-rule double, which appeared to land in the outfield and then bounce over the fence.
Freeman argued with the home-plate umpire's decision to rule it a homer -- but to no avail -- and Timmerman later admitted that it was a turning point in the game.
"That call -- and those two runs -- is what decided the game," Timmerman told The Albany Herald on Wednesday. "We got a break there."
Westwood's victory in that game launched the Wildcats' current nine-game winning streak, while the defeat also marked the last time Crisp lost. The Wildcats (16-7) are 7-0 since.
And now the stage is officially set to settle the score.
"It really ought to be a great series that ultimately may come down to who makes the least amount of mistakes in the field," Freeman said. "With both of us being solid in all phases of the game, I see this as an even match-up with no real advantage for either team.
"If there's something that has to give in order to decide the championship, I don't know what it is. I just hope it's them that does the giving."
If Crisp can pull off the series victory, it will take some of the sting out of last year's championship series loss to Citizens, which rebounded from a 6-4 Game 1 loss to win Game 2, 7-4, and Game 3, 6-4.
"We came within five outs of winning it all in 2010 so it'd be great if we are able to come out on top this time around -- (because) you never know when you might get back into this situation again," Freeman said. "We really want to finish the deal this season."
Just making it to this point is a feat in itself considering Crisp started the season 1-5, and had several holes to fill after losing many of its key players to graduation.
"We (still) had a lot of expectations coming into this year (despite getting off to a 1-5 start). We were all pressing too hard. Since settling down and putting all the pre-season hype behind us, we've gone 15-2," Freeman said. "Never have we wavered when it comes to achieving our goal of winning state. Going into this final series, our guys are confident but not overconfident.
"They know what we need to do and have to do in order to make the championship a reality. Hopefully we'll be up to the challenge."