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GISA CLASS A FINAL FOUR STATE BASEBALL PREVIEW: Standing in Crisp Academy’s way of returning to state title series is GISA newbie Bethlehem Christian

Crisp Academy baseball coach John Penney thinks the first meeting earlier this year between the Wildcats and today's Final Four foe, Bethlehem Christian --- which beat Crisp, 5-2 --- is a distant memory heading into today's best-of-three series.

Crisp Academy baseball coach John Penney thinks the first meeting earlier this year between the Wildcats and today's Final Four foe, Bethlehem Christian --- which beat Crisp, 5-2 --- is a distant memory heading into today's best-of-three series.

BETHLEHEM — As a first-year member of the GISA and playing a full varsity slate for the first time, Bethlehem Christian’s baseball team has experienced instantaneous success.

Since launching the 2012 season with a 5-2 victory against the defending Class A state champion Crisp Academy team it will host this weekend in the Class A Final Four round, the Knights have surged to a 19-2 record and the No. 1 ranking in the Class A coaches poll.

But Crisp Academy coach John Penney said the Knights haven’t seen anything yet.

“If (my pitchers) are on, we will be tough to beat,” said Penney, whose team is 15-6 and hasn’t lost in nearly three weeks. “We aren’t taking anybody too lightly, but you have to have confidence in your kids. And I do.”

Crisp Academy will be led by ace James Bodrey, who closed out the state title last season and is unbeaten in his last six starts, and junior pitchers Jordan Howard and Rush Brown — neither of whom threw in that early-season loss to Bethlehem Christian. Bodrey will take the mound in the opener of the three-game series, which kicks off today with a doubleheader starting at 2 p.m. If a third game is necessary, it’s set for 1 p.m. on Saturday.

“We knew getting to play the defending state champions was a good way to get our name out there in the GISA right off the bat,” Bethlehem coach Nick Pou said when contacted this week about the impending showdown. “Even though we beat them before (in the opening round of the Frederica Invitational), we definitely don’t think we’ll roll over them in the rematch.”

“They won state last year for a reason ... and until somebody takes the title of state champs away from them, they still have that distinction.”

Penney, whose team managed just three hits and committed a whopping eight errors in that loss, isn’t putting too much stock in that first matchup.

“I don’t even remember the specifics of that game,” Penney admitted. “We were really just looking at what we had and what we would be doing (this season). The kids were coming off an offseason where we didn’t get to practice much because of basketball. We are much stronger now.”

Penney expects pitching to carry Crisp into a championship series against either Westwood or David Emanuel, but the Wildcats can also swing the bat, starting with hitting leaders Howard (.470 batting average, five HRs, 40 RBI) and Robbie Wright (.450, HR, 20 RBI).

When it comes to the offensive outlook for the Knights, Pou said the team batting average is around .315 and that he has 2-3 guys who can “pop it out of the park.” His other regulars offer a mixture of gap and singles hitters.

Pou said Bethlehem is not a team totally without concerns, however. With just 11-to-12 players on the roster, the lack of depth is a major worry.

“If a starter was to go down, it’d hurt ... We’d either have to replace him with an eighth-grader or find someone within the varsity reserve ranks to go in there and try to get the job done,” Pou said.

Pou also realizes his team didn’t see several of Crisp’s best players in the first meeting.

“We didn’t see their big guy Howard, but we obviously know about him and his fastball clocked in the 90s,” Pou said. “With our pitchers and their pitchers, I think we match up OK. All of them throw well and throw strikes, which — at this level — can take you a long way. I think we’re so evenly matched overall that the team that makes the fewer mistakes is probably going to be the one that comes out on top. We know they’re a great team that will be ready to play just like we will be. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”


Cordele Dispatch sports editor Harvey Simpson and Herald sports writer John Millikan contributed to this report