||Pope will try to repeat in 6A. Courtesy of Cecil Copeland.
Score Atlanta once again produced the official GHSA baseball finals programs to be handed out at all four sites, and we have previews of every series. Can Mill Creek beat out traditional powerhouse Parkview in Class 7A at UGA's Foley Field? Will Jefferson continue its storybook playoff run and upset Cartersville? Scroll down for the full story from Macon, Rome, Savannah and Athens.
Gwinnett giants meet in 7A, and Region 8 rivals set for battle in 5A
By Alex Ewalt
The Class AAAAA championship series features two Region 8 rivals that have combined for five state titles in the past 11 years. Loganville is the defending champion in the classification and has three trophies since 2008 (2012 as well), while Buford took state in 2011 and 2015. Loganville, the preseason favorite to win the title again, has a 2-0 advantage in the season series against Buford, winning 4-2 on April 13 at home and 8-1 three days later on the road.
Loganville, Region 8's No. 1 seed with a record of 33-6, hasn't had to go to a Game 3 this postseason, and the Red Devils have only given up nine runs in eight playoff games. The team earned its finals berth with a 5-1, 7-2 sweep over Starr's Mill last week, the second-straight season Loganville has dispatched the Panthers in the semifinals. Joseph Brandon pitched the complete-game victory in Game 1, allowing just three hits and striking out 11. Game 2 tightened up when Starr's Mill scored twice in the sixth inning to make it 3-2, but the Red Devils put the game away in the bottom of the inning with four runs. Seth Clark got the win after working six innings, and Bryant Pietri, who also went 4-for-6 at the plate in the second game, closed it out.
The 28-11 Wolves are gunning for a fourth state title (Buford won its first in 1977). Buford, its region's No. 2 seed, has also avoided Game 3s this playoff season but had to survive a very competitive semifinals series with Flowery Branch, the region's No. 3. The Wolves won 3-2 and 1-0 to clinch their place in the finals, needing seventh-inning magic each time. In Game 1, Buford trailed 2-1 in the final inning, but Patrick Wagner drew a bases-loaded walk to score Christian Griffin for the winning run. In Game 2, Grant James' single plated Garrison Price to give the Wolves a 1-0 lead. Buford has only given up 12 runs in its eight playoff wins.
Parkview is a storied program in the state and has six titles, all since 1996 and most recently in 2015. Mill Creek has no titles to its name since opening in 2004 but entered the playoffs at No. 1 in the rankings, Parkview at No. 2. Each team sports a 34-6 overall record, but Mill Creek won the sole game between the teams this season, 5-3 on Feb. 27. Each team was its region's top seed, Mill Creek in Region 6 and Parkview in Region 7.
Both also survived three-game series in the semifinals; Parkview outlasted Woodstock last week with a 6-1 win in the rubber match, and Mill Creek took a 5-2 victory over Brookwood in Game 3 (the Hawks also withstood a three-game challenge from South Gwinnett in the second round). Mill Creek, which fell in the semifinals last season, won an epic Game 2 against Brookwood to stay alive. The Hawks won 6-4 in 11 innings thanks to six innings of relief work from Alaska Abney, who finished the game with a double play. In Game 3, the home-team Hawks got 4 2/3 innings from sophomore pitcher Zach Green, who gave up just three hits and one run to earn the win. Davis Sharpe gave Mill Creek a 1-0 lead with a home run in the first inning, and the team added three runs with two outs in the fourth to make it 4-0. Tyler Parish closed the game on the mound.
Parkview won the second and third games over Woodstock 5-1 and 6-1 to advance. Senior Logan Cerny has five home runs in the postseason for Parkview, including one each in the first two games of the semifinals; his fourth-inning home run in Game 2 tied the game at 1-1 and allowed the Panthers the chance to enter extra innings. Then in the eighth, Parkview exploded for four runs in the top half to put the game out of reach. In Game 3, the Panthers' sophomore Miles Garrett threw four perfect innings after being given a 3-0 lead in the first frame. Garrett got the win in just his fourth start of the season, and the Panthers defense helped stem several Woodstock rallies to preserve the lead.
Pope primed to defend title; Jefferson pulls off semis shocker to take on Cartersville
By Alex Ewalt
The Class AAAA championship series pits surprise finalist Jefferson, the No. 1 seed out of Region 8, against Cartersville, the top seed out of Region 5. The Dragons come in at 26-11 overall (ranked No. 6 by the AJC heading into the playoffs) and fresh off one of the biggest playoff upsets in recent memory after defeating preseason favorite Blessed Trinity. The Purple Hurricanes sit at 31-8 overall (No. 2 after the regular season) and dispatched a strong Heritage-Catoosa team in the semifinals. Cartersville seeks its seventh all-time state title, and Jefferson is looking for its first. Neither team made it out of the first round of the playoffs in 2017; in fact, Jefferson fell to Heritage and Cartersville fell to Blessed Trinity last spring. The teams have not met this season.
Jefferson shocked Blessed Trinity, which had spent all season at No. 1 in the state and was ranked as high as No. 1 nationally by certain publications, with a clean road sweep in the semifinals, 10-7 and 2-0. The Dragons got a five-hit shutout from pitcher Lane Watkins in Game 2, as two fourth-inning runs were enough to seal the series victory. In Game 1, Jefferson held on for the 10-7 win after jumping out to a 7-1 advantage after five innings. Zac Corbin provided the offense in the tone-setting win, going 3-for-4 with a home run as well as scoring twice and knocking in three RBIs. Justin Cole added two hits, one run and an RBI, and Mason Cooper had two hits and scored two runs in Game 1. Jefferson lost in the state finals in 2015 but will be looking to follow up its eye-opening semifinals win with a championship this time around.
Standing in Jefferson's way is Cartersville, a team that was ranked No. 3 in the preseason poll (Jefferson was unranked to start the year). The Purple Hurricanes have survived one three-game series, against Marist in the second round as Cartersville took Game 1 11-1, lost Game 2 4-3 and again routed the War Eagles 10-2 in the rubber match. In the semifinals, Cartersville survived a tough 6-5 Game 1 victory over Heritage-Catoosa before prevailing 10-2 in Game 2 for the sweep. Cartersville defeated the top team from Region 6 in a back-and-forth first game that saw the Canes take a 3-2 lead after a big bottom half of the first inning. Senior star Anthony Seigler, a Florida commit who could also be a high draft pick next month, got the win in relief and scored the go-ahead run for the Canes in the first game. He came up big again in Game 2 by hitting a solo home run and again scoring the go-ahead run, this time breaking a 2-2 tie in what would become a five-run sixth inning that gave the Canes a 7-2 advantage. Seigler was 6-for-7 in the series.
The Pope Greyhounds will look to defend their 2017 state title, the third trophy in the program's history, all since 2009 (2013 was their second). The team comes into the final series 32-7 and entered the playoffs at No. 1, eventually meeting preseason No. 1 River Ridge for the right to play for a championship. In the semifinal series, Pope, the top seed out of Region 7, got a home doubleheader sweep after exploding for 24 hits combined in the 9-5 and 10-3 victories. In both games, Pope jumped out to leads in the first inning: 4-1 in Game 1 and 3-0 in Game 2. The Greyhounds swept River Ridge in the semis last year as well. Antonio Jareno gave Pope a 5-3 Game 1 lead with a leadoff home run in the fifth inning, and then the Greyhounds iced it with a four-run sixth. Max Pralgo got the Game 1 win after giving up three runs in six innings. In Game 2, Pope added to its early lead with two runs in the third inning to take a 5-0 advantage and got four insurance runs in the top of the seventh to bring the game to its final 10-3 score. Scotty LeSieur got the win in Game 2.
Allatoona reached the state finals with a sweep over Alpharetta, albeit separated by a day due to weather delays; the Buccaneers won Game 2 on Thursday at home to win the semifinals series. The Bucs, the No. 1 seed out of Region 6, enter the finals with a 33-6 record and have gone through one three-game series in the postseason, to Grovetown in the quarterfinals, after losing Game 1 7-0. Allatoona's Hunter Paulsen got the 5-2 Game 1 win against Alpharetta last Tuesday, as he allowed nine hits but just the two runs on two solo homers. The Bucs scored four runs in the bottom of the fifth to pull ahead.
West Paces rivals meet again; Prince Avenue makes first finals
By Seth Ellerbee
Prince Avenue is in the hunt for its first-ever state baseball title as it takes the field at Mercer in Macon. It's uncharted waters for the Wolverines, and this first-ever finals appearance will be savored. Last year, Prince Avenue had to fight past Athens Academy in the first round before falling to Mount de Sales in Round 2. This year, The Wolverines are coming off a three-game series in the quarterfinals and the semis. Their quarterfinal victory knocked off the defending Class A-Private champions, Savannah Christian.
Following a bye in the first round, Prince Avenue swept St. Francis (7-6, 3-1) to earn a quarterfinal berth. The next two rounds tested the Wolverines' mettle, as in the quarters against Savannah Christian, Prince Avenue lost the first game 12-0 before rebounding to win the second game 3-2 and then the decisive third game 2-1 to advance to the semifinals.
In the semis against Holy Innocents', Prince Avenue had its back against the wall following a 9-8 defeat in the first game. A rebound victory in Game 2, 3-2, forced the Wolverines into back-to-back three-game series. As the threat of weather covered the state, Prince Avenue and Holy Innocents' agreed to play the third game at Blessed Trinity's all-turf field. The Wolverines advanced past Holy Innocents' 4-1 to earn the championship berth following a three-run second inning.
State runner-up Tattnall Square fell in the championship series to Savannah Christian 5-2, 5-4 last season. This year Tattnall is poised to capture its second-ever GHSA state title since joining just a handful of years ago; the program was long established as a GISA powerhouse before that. The Trojans have featured in the state finals in each of the last two seasons. This year, behind the rotating pitching group of seniors Logan Fink and Luke Laskey and sophomores Brooks Gorman and Dawson Brown, Tattnall has been steadily improving. Following a bye in the first round, the Trojans moved past Brookstone 13-2, 3-2. Tattnall's run through the bracket this year has been highlighted by 11-1 and 11-4 thrashings of Wesleyan in the quarterfinals. In 2016, the Trojans won the A-Private state title with a three-game victory over Hebron Christian.
Twelve combined state baseball titles reside in the trophy cases at Westminster and Lovett, two storied programs that will meet for the Class AAA finals series. The most recent for either team? Both in 2016, when Westminster won the Class AAA title and Lovett handled AA. Lovett is the more successful team in terms of titles, with eight trophies to its pedigree. Westminster accounts for four.
Last season, Westminster took the No. 4 seed from Region 5 entering the playoffs and did not make it past the first round, falling to Region 7 top seed Greater Atlanta Christian in three games. Region 5 rival Lovett entered the playoffs as the No. 3 seed, and following victories over Dawson County (3 games) and Worth County in the second round, the Lions fell to Calhoun in three games in the quarterfinals.
This year, Lovett took the No. 2 seed into the playoffs and advanced past Calhoun in the first round. The Lions survived a scare against North Hall in the second round, winning in three games, and after losing Game 2 7-6, Lovett won 5-4 to earn the quarterfinal berth. In the quarters against Southeast Bulloch, Lovett was again taken to a third game after losing the first 5-3 and rebounding to win the second 9-6. A 4-2 victory in Game 3 allowed the semifinal berth against Morgan County.
Top-seeded Westminster's road to Macon has been smoother, to say the least. The Wildcats moved past Haralson County in the first round, outscoring them 11-2 in two games. Against Greater Atlanta Christian in the second round, Westminster avenged last year's loss to GAC with a sweep (8-6, 12-5), which earned the Wildcats a quarterfinal berth against Cook. Westminster stretched its legs in the quarters, defeating Cook 17-1 and 7-0 to charge into the semis, where it moved past Ringgold 5-3, 3-2 to advance to the championship series. The Wildcats are led by senior first baseman Ryan Miller, a Georgia Tech signee. Georgia commitment Parks Harber, a sophomore third baseman, is an impressive player. Tulane commit Luke Jannetta, a junior left-handed pitcher, will hold down the mound for Westminster.
Berrien, Benedictine to do battle in AA; Gordon Lee looks to end title drought
By Graham David
The Berrien Rebels' return to the Class AA finals marks the school's first appearance in the championship in 30 years. The team's season has already been one for the ages, as the Rebels entered the playoffs ranked No. 10 in the AJC's poll. The Rebels' path to the finals has been riddled with tough matchups and close games. Their first-round matchup against Vidalia kicked off strong with a dominant 10-3 victory, but their 9-1 Game 2 loss brought fears of elimination. But the Rebels managed to move on to the second round, where they won both games against Dodge County by one run. Their quarterfinals series may have been their best, defeating Heard County 8-2 and 3-0 while allowing zero earned runs. The Rebels then took down defending champs Jeff Davis to bring them face-to-face with Benedictine in the finals.
Benedictine's last state title came in 2014 in Class AA, the program's second all-time. Aside from a 6-5 win against Early County in the first round, the Region 2 No. 1 seed easily handled every opponent it faced leading up to the semifinals. During their stretch from the first round into the semis, the Cadets outscored opponents 75-13, a true display of their high-powered offense as well as strong pitching and defense. The Cadets' bullpen has helped keep opponents off the scoreboard. Garrison Gunby racked up 11 strikeouts through six innings against Social Circle in Game 1 of the quarterfinals. However, the pitcher's talents went beyond the mound. Gunby also launched two homers in Game 2 against Social Circle, showing his power and versatility. Carter Holton took the mound against Callaway in Game 2 of the semifinals, throwing a two-hit shutout while racking up 10 strikeouts. The Cadets' matchup against Berrien will be their last game in Class AA before they make the move up to AAA, so they'll be looking to leave the classification in style.
The Gordon Lee Trojans nearly broke their 34-year drought without a title during last season's A-Public finals but got swept by Schley County, putting their championship dreams on hold. This time around the Trojans look as if they're in top form. After their first-round bye, Gordon Lee faced off against a familiar postseason foe, Clinch County. The Trojans swept and shut out the Panthers, setting up a second-round rematch with last year's semifinal opponent, Charlton County. Caleb Hopkins pitched in Game 1 of the series, giving up only three hits while racking up nine strikeouts over six innings to get the win. In Game 2, senior Mason Pettigrew took the mound and threw a strong three innings. When Jake Wright came in from the bullpen, Charlton County failed to get a hit during his four-inning performance. The Gordon Lee pitching staff is performing at a high level, but they aren't the only ones making things happen. The Trojan bats have been electric this postseason, outscoring opponents 46-4. Sophomore Will Sizemore has continuously come through in key situations. The Trojans' semifinal victories over Bowdon featured more of the same high-powered offense from the likes of Hunter Hodson, J.D. Day and Austin Thompson.
Gordon Lee will be ready to face off against Telfair County. After rain delays, Telfair County swept Irwin County 8-5 and 3-0, finishing on Thursday, to advance to the finals for a shot at the school's first-ever baseball state title. The path to the finals hasn't proved to be too much for Telfair, as the team has yet to be forced to play a Game 3 and has outscored opponents 46-17. The explosive Telfair offense will be put to the test against Gordon Lee's stellar pitching staff, but the Telfair bats won't be easy to silence. Cameo Blankenship went 5-for-5 with two doubles in the first game of the quarterfinals against Baconton Charter, and when paired with cleanup hitter Ryan Dopson, this duo helps Telfair put up numbers.
2018 GHSA Baseball State Championship Schedule
Class AAAAA: Buford at Loganville
Class AAAA: Cartersville at Jefferson
Class AAA: Westminster at Lovett
Class AA: Benedictine at Berrien
Class AAAAAAA: Mill Creek at Parkview
Class AAAAAA: Allatoona at Pope
Class A-Public: Telfair County at Gordon Lee
Class A-Private: Tattnall Square at Prince Avenue