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PREVIEW: Area GISA baseball teams open play in Elite 8 today

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

Today’s Elite 8 schedule

Class A

1 p.m.

Randolph Southern at David Emanuel, (DH)

Robert Toombs at Crisp Academy, (DH)

Class AA

2 p.m.

Edmund Burke at Terrell Academy, just Game 1; Game 2 and, if necessary, Game 3 on Saturday

2 p.m.

SGA at Brentwood, just Game 1; Game 2 and, if necessary, Game 3 on Saturday

Class AAA

1 p.m.

(Series starts Saturday)

Deerfield at Westfield, just Game 1; Game 2 and, if necessary, Game 3 will be played Monday at 1 p.m.

After stunning upset in state opener of No. 1 seed Loganville, No. 4 Southland drops Elite 8 series opener against MDS

MACON — Southland Academy baseball coach John Brady had a message for his kids after last week’s first-round upset by the No. 4-seeded Raiders against No. 1 Loganville Christian — a team that not many outside of Americus thought Southland could beat.

“We don’t get on the bus planning to lose,” he recalled. “We felt we could beat Loganville, so it didn’t surprise us. It may have surprised some others, but it didn’t surprise us.”

Southland took that same attitude into Thursday’s GISA Class AAA Elite 8 matchup with Mount de Sales, the No. 3 seed out of Region 2. And while the Raiders came up short in Game 1 of their best-of-three series, 10-4, Brady and his kids walked away from the loss feeling like the series was still theirs to win.

“As we sat on the field on the third baseline after the game, I asked them to look up at the scoreboard and tell me what they saw,” the third-year coach said. “I said, ‘For six innings, we beat this team, 4-3. We were in control.”

The Raiders lost brief control, however, in a seven-run third inning by MDS, which turned an early 3-1 Southland lead into an 8-3 hole for the Raiders, who never recovered.

Game 2 will be Saturday at 2 p.m., followed by Game 3, if necessary.

Brady hopes it is.

“(MDS) doesn’t have a kid as good as they threw (Thursday), so we like our chances in the next game,” he said. “But credit their pitcher. He’s as good as any in that region, maybe the whole state.”

Southland jumped to a 3-1 lead after two innings on three unearned runs, touching Mount de Sales ace Adam Barth for five hits as the Cavaliers (13-13) committed three errors. But Mount de Sales’ offense stepped up in the third inning, recording six hits as the Cavaliers sent 10 men to the plate.

After the big inning, Barth settled down and allowed only two hits the rest of the way. He struck out eight and walked four en route to the win.

Southland’s Brandon Looney pitched four innings and shouldered the loss as Brady watched helplessly as MDS “blooped and bled us to death.”

“It was death by 1,000 cuts. No big hits or anything, just bloops here, infield hits there. It was frustrating to watch,” he said. “But we can’t let one inning eat at us. We can’t let that dictate how the rest of the series goes. We have to concentrate on winning each game. We’re a confident bunch, so I don’t think this will rattle us.”

Southland tallied just seven hits — two by Looney — while Andrew Alexander and Ryan Weaver each drove in runs. Brady said freshman Reed Dillard will take the mound for Game 2, and his guys will be ready to redeem themselves.

“The last time we played (MDS) in the regular season, it was 3-2 them,” Brady said. “We’re confident we can play with this team.”

danny.aller@albanyherald.com

DAWSON — Ashley Walker knew 2013 would be a special season the moment he took over the Terrell Academy baseball program nearly five years ago.

Led by six seniors who have played with each other for six years, the Eagles are starting to find out just how special this year really is.

“These kids have been playing together for years and are really good friends,” Walker said Thursday on the eve of his team’s GISA Class AA Elite 8 series with Edmund Burke today in Dawson. “I knew if these guys stuck together that we would have something really special with this group.”

The Eagles, who recently won their first outright region title since Walker became coach in 2009, continue their remarkable run today at home with the opening game of a best-of-three series against Edmund Burke.

TAE, the No. 1 seed from Region 3-AA, is 16-6 overall, and the Eagles, who played for a Class A state championship in 2009 but lost to Randolph Southern, think it’s their chance to win the program’s first state title in 30 years. But they will first have to go through Region 2-AA No. 2 seed Edmund Burke, the second-ranked team in the state.

“Anybody who walks on the field with us, I always think we have a chance to win,” said Caleb Waters, one of the Eagles’ six seniors. “It helps a lot that we are at home. I think we can go pretty far in this tournament. I think there is something special with what we have.”

Waters is joined by seniors Logan Duckworth, Logan Maxwell, Josh Wardrip, Josh Brunswick and Clint Smith, and Walker believes it’s the experience of the group that could keep this season alive.

“These six have been starting for me since the 10th grade, so they know the system,” Walker said. “They know what it takes. They have been in the big ball games, so the experience is there.”

But Edmund Burke, which won the Class AA state title in 2011, has plenty of seniors, too.

“They have a senior-loaded team. They have seven, and we have six,” Walker said. “They won the championship in 2011, and a lot of these kids playing now were on that same team.”

Brunswick, Terrell’s ace, will take the mound for Game 1 today.

“(Brunswick) has to go out and just play his game,” Walker said. “We changed our philosophy this year to pitch to contact and play defense. Josh has done a great job all year long. He gets a lot of ground balls, but one thing he can’t do is go out there and walk a lot of guys.”

Walker knows his team also needs to match Edmund Burke at the plate, where Waters is leading the team with four home runs and 30 RBI.

“We need some big hits out of him, and we need some big hits out of all of our guys,” Walker said. “Caleb has been one of our hottest guys at the plate lately.”

Waters doesn’t plan on cooling off anytime soon.

“We have to hit the ball,” Waters said. “We know Edmund Burke has big bats and likes to pull the ball. We just need to play the game we are capable of playing and hit the ball in key situations.

“We have all been looking forward to this year. We’ve been talking about it since our sophomore year and knew this would be our time to make a run at a state championship.”

SGA ready for Brentwood

SANDERSVILLE — Brentwood Academy enters today’s GISA Class AA Elite 8 state playoff series with Southwest Georgia Academy with a state No. 1 ranking and a 20-3 record, but SGA coach Ben Nobles thinks he has the game-changer.

Pitching.

“Brentwood’s numbers are high as far as hitting goes, but I am confident our pitchers will be able to hold them to a close game,” Nobles said.

The teams open their best-of-three series with a single game at 2 p.m. today in Sandersville, and sophomore Jake Odum will be on the mound for the Warriors with freshman Quinn LaGuardia slated to pitch in relief.

SGA ace Matt Jernigan will start Game 2, which will begin Saturday at 11 a.m.

SGA (11-9) is playing in the Elite 8 for the first time since 2009 and is the No. 2 seed from Region 3-AA, while Brentwood is the No. 1 seed from Region 2-AA, the reigning Class AA state champion and undefeated at home against AA schools this season.

The Warriors are coming off an upset victory in the opening round against Central Fellowship, which entered the series 16-4 overall, and are riding momentum into this weekend’s series.

“We started off this week with a little bit of a hangover from that win as far as preparation goes,” Nobles said. “Practices on Monday and Tuesday were lackadaisical, but by the end of the week we were getting focused. I really believe the guys are getting amped up for this at the right time.”

The Warriors are young and are only hitting .270 as a team, but Garrett Vann (.393 batting average) and Alex Chambless (.354) have been a pair of bright spots at the plate.

Class A: Randolph Southern tries to keep season alive vs. David Emanuel

STILLMORE — Nobody on the Randolph Southern baseball team is talking about the end.

There’s still too much baseball left to be played.

The Patriots are the final athletics program in the history of Randolph Southern as the school is closing its doors for good after this year ends, and the baseball team believes there is still one last chapter to be written in the RSS history books.

The Patriots (10-10), the No. 2 seed from Region 3-A, travel to Stillmore today to face state-ranked No. 2 David Emanuel, the No. 1 seed from Region 2-A, in the Elite 8 of the Class A state playoffs. The best-of-three series starts with a doubleheader at 1 p.m.

“Everyone knows that the school is closing, so we don’t really like to talk about it much,” RSS senior Blake Lamb said. “Every year we are playing for a title, but this year we have a lot more to play for. We have everyone that has been a part of this school to play for.”

Seth Farmer, Randolph Southern’s first-year coach, admits he doesn’t know much about David Emanuel but is confident his kids will play their hearts out.

“They might be nervous, but they aren’t showing it,” Farmer said. “They are taking it one game at a time, and they have been together for so long there really isn’t any pressure. They are just practicing and having fun. Everybody is relaxed.”

Farmer said his players haven’t let the impending shut down of RSS affect how they have played.

“I brought it up once, and they have never brought it up again,” Farmer said. “They haven’t let it affect them. They treat it like they would every other game and every other season.”

Senior ace Trey Goree will be on the mound for Randolph Southern in Game 1 today.

“(Goree) has been in situations like this plenty of times before, and I feel most confident with him up there,” Farmer said. “Nerves don’t really get to him.”

The top half of the Patriots’ lineup has carried the load offensively and is led by Lamb, the lead-off hitter who is followed in the batting order by Brett Sauls, Goree, Drew Weathersby and Josh McDowell

“I feel like if I can get on in any way that it will make a spark and get us going,” Lamb said. “Our approach at the plate is to be aggressive like we have been all year. We are just trying to put the bat on the ball.”

Crisp Academy vs. Robert Toombs

CORDELE — The Crisp Academy baseball team is two wins from advancing to the Final Four for the fourth straight year, and all that stands in the Wildcats’ way is underwhelming Robert Toombs.

But Crisp coach John Penney isn’t celebrating another trip to the GISA Class A state semifinals just yet.

“My team is one of those teams that can play down to the level of the competition, and I am trying to get them out of that and to play 100 percent all the time,” Penney said. “We have to be 100 percent no matter who we play. That’s what I have been telling my guys this week at practice. This is the second round of the state playoffs, so we have to play up to our potential.”

The Wildcats — who have dedicated their season and postseason run to the memory of former Crisp star James Bodrey, who died in an ATV accident last year — certainly enter the game as the favorites with the No. 1 seed from Region 3-A and an overall record of 12-5. Robert Toombs is the No. 2 seed from Region 2-A but is just 7-12 overall.

The best-of-three series begins with a doubleheader today at 1 p.m. in Cordele, and the Wildcats will have ace Rush Brown on the mound.

“He is a rock,” Penney said about Brown. “If Rush is on, he is really hard to hit. He is a really talented kid and a hard-working kid. He runs it up in the mid-to-high 80s and has a lot of movement.”

Jeff McKinney will start Game 2, while senior flamethrower Jordan Howard — who has committed to pitch at Georgia Southern — could pick up a few innings and get his most work on the mound since a preseason basketball injury.

The Wildcats — with a potent batting order that includes McKinney, Howard, Brown, Jake Smith, Hunter Chambers, Corey Stewart, Greyson Farrow, James Wessell and Chandler Larkins — combined for 28 hits in a first-round sweep of Thomas Jefferson, and Penney believes if the bats stay hot then his team will be tough to beat.

“If we hit the ball like we have been hitting, we ought to be very competitive,” Penney said.