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Time to settle the score

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

CAMILLA -- Westwood pitching ace Douglas Nobles said during Wednesday's practice that he "thrives" under pressure.

As of late, so have his teammates.

The young -- yet confident -- Wildcats will take their nine-game winning streak 60 miles north today to Cordele, where they will play Crisp Academy for the GISA Class A state championship, starting with Game 1 at 2 p.m., and followed immediately after by Game 2.

And Nobles, a junior who will be on the mound for Game 1 of the best-of-three series, said he and his teammates are "pumped" for the biggest series of their young careers.

"I thrive (under pressure)," he said. "I am just ready to go out there and do what I have been doing all year."

For the most part, Westwood has been winning all year, especially in the last few weeks. The Wildcats, who haven't lost since a 7-1 setback to Crisp Academy on April 15, have been powered by their pitching, which Westwood coach Al Timmerman said will be the deciding factor in this state championship series.

"We've got good pitching all the way around; Douglas isn't the only guy we can put on the mound," Timmerman said. "I think the series is going to be a pitcher's series because they have four guys who can throw, and we have four guys who can throw."

Behind Nobles, Westwood's pitchers are Caleb Morrell, Jake Edore and Mason Worsham.

Throughout the playoffs, Nobles has a record of 2-0 and has struck out 19 and allowed just five hits and one run in 10 innings of work. In the state semifinals last weekend, he pitched a no-hitter with 12 strikeouts against Memorial Day -- and he also smacked two home runs and finished with six RBI.

Morrell has a playoff record of 1-0 with seven strikeouts, while Edore is 1-0 with four strikeouts.

However, it's no secret that Nobles and Crisp ace Patrick Fay will battle it out in Game 1, just like the two hurlers did in the regular-season matchup in mid-April.

"(Crisp) is going to ride their strong horse, and we will ride ours," Timmerman said.

Crisp's "strong horse" may have won the April 15 battle between the two pitchers, but Nobles evened things up by pitching Westwood to a 6-4 victory against Crisp on April 22.

Westwood hasn't lost since Crisp beat the Wildcats, and Crisp has won seven in a row since its loss April 22. Something has to give in this state championship series, and Edore -- Westwood's lone senior who played second base for the Wildcats when they lost in the 2008 state championship series to Flint River Academy -- said his guys are capable of bringing home a state championship.

Edore said fielding errors cost Westwood a state title three years ago, and he is making sure his current teammates know that mental decisions on the field can be the difference between a win and a loss.

"The team with the least errors gets the win, and we made too many errors, mentally and physically," Edore said about the 2008 squad. "I think this team has a mindset where we can get the championship and bring it back to Westwood."

The message Edore said he is telling his teammates is: "Don't lay down now. You have made it all this way, so give it all you've got for two maybe three games. That's all we've got left this year to come out with a gold trophy."

It wouldn't be the first state title trophy for Edore, who has been a part of football and track & field state championships this season. Timmerman said that experience is important on a team that is littered with youth and inexperience on the varsity level.

"It's good to have somebody who has some experience in this type of setting," said Timmerman, whose team will return to Cordele on Friday for Game 3 at 1 p.m, should the two teams split today.

Edore, along with the rest of Westwood's pitching staff, will also have to step up at the plate, Timmerman said of the first four hitters in his lineup.

In the four playoff games, lead-off hitter Worsham is batting .385 with seven runs cored; Nobles is batting .417 with nine RBI, five runs and two home runs; Edore is batting .636 with 10 runs and six RBI; and Morrell is batting .667 with seven runs and six RBI.

"They set the tone, but another key will be the bottom part of our lineup," Timmerman said. "They have to contribute. We feel good if the bottom of our lineup can step up and get a few hits here and there."

And that is exactly what Westwood's 5-through-9 hitters have been doing during the team's nine-game winning streak. No. 7 batter Chason Worsham has been the leader of the bottom part of the batting order in the postseason with a batting average of .455 and six runs.

The two Region 1-A teams may have split games with each other in the regular season, but they dominated other teams around the state. Crisp (16-7) entered the tournament ranked No. 1 in the state, and Westwood (18-4) entered as the No. 2 team.

And that's exactly where they still are entering today's winner-take-all showdown,

"I think both teams realize that this thing could be two good games or three good games," Timmerman said. "It will be some good baseball."