PREVIEW: Crisp Academy keeps semifinal streak going

The Wildcats are in the GISA Class A semifinals for a fifth straight year

CORDELE — Pardon the expression that Crisp Academy baseball coach Tim Harris likes to use.

Old school.

Some of his baseball strategies may seen ancient, but the longtime Southwest Georgia coach has Crisp Academy back into a familiar position — playing in the Georgia Independent Schools Association Class A state semifinals for the fifth straight season.

The Wildcats entertain David Emanuel in the best-of-three semifinals that begins at 1 p.m. today in Cordele.

After earning a first-round bye two weeks ago, Crisp swept Citizen’s Christian last weekend to make today’s matchup possible. Unlike last year when the team boasted standout Jordan Howard, the Wildcats don’t have a superstar.

But they do have a solid corps of seniors that has blended with a handful of junior and freshmen to compile a 13-5 record. Of their five losses, two each were to Southwest Georgia playoff teams in Southland and Terrell Academy, as well as a single loss to Windsor Academy.

Harris doesn’t care about records. He just wants his team to play the game the right way.

“It starts with good pitching,” said Harris, who left Fullington Academy last season to take over at Crisp. “Then you have to have good defense and timely hitting, and we’ve been able to do that.”

The Wildcats have been led on the mound by a trio of seniors — Jeff McKinney, James Wessel and Greyson Farrow. McKinney is 7-0 and should start today’s first game.

Shortstop Jake Smith is the team’s leadoff hitter and normally gets the offense going, then he’s followed by McKinney, Wessel and Farrow. Senior third baseman Cullen Brooks has also been an integral part of the offense.

But the biggest strength of this team is its depth. The Wildcats have as many as eight pitchers who have either pitched on the varsity or gotten B-team innings, and four members of the team have played catcher. Many of Crisp’s top players are just like Wessel, who has played every position on the field this season.

“I’ve never had players play more positions than I have this year,” Harris said. “I’ve never had that.”

McKinney knows getting to the finals will be a challenge.

“We just have to work hard in practice and get everything ready,” McKinney said. “We have to get our minds mentally prepared to play.”

After five straight semifinal appearances, Harris has the challenge of keeping the team focused. He’s shook up the usual practice routine at times, breaking the players into teams and playing intrasquad games.

“An old-school thought is that kids want to be pushed to be better,” Harris said. “During organized practices, things can get a little boring. We’ve done several things to try to combat boredom.”

But in his first season with the Wildcats, he said he couldn’t be happier with the direction of the team.

“This has been a total team thing,” he said. “We don’t have a superstar, but we’ve had three players hit .450 and three hit .400. Five players made the all-region team, so they’re a pretty talented bunch of players. I couldn’t be more pleased.”