For Northwest Whitfield and Cass, the most recent round of Georgia High School Association reclassification offered both familiarity and freshness.
Their region’s name stayed the same, but outside of the Bruins and Colonels, most of the team names in 7-4A were different.
The league championship series, though, is all about familiarity for the Bruins and Colonels.
The Region 7-4A championship is now a race to two wins, and it could be over today. As sub-region champions, both schools have already clinched host spots in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs next week. They begin their best-of-three series at Northwest’s Richard S. Chumley Field in Tunnel Hill with a 5:30 p.m. doubleheader. The second game starts 30 minutes after the first ends.
The potential third game, if necessary, would be at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Northwest. At stake in the series is both the title and the privilege of hosting at least through state’s second round.
Last year, Region 7-4A included Cass and Northwest, but most of the league’s other teams moved up to a higher classification during the offseason with the GHSA’s biennial reclassification and region realignment.
Johns Creek won the region title and reached the Class 4A state semifinals in 2012, while Forsyth Central reached the state quarterfinals.
The Bruins swept the season series with the Colonels last year, winning 3-2 and 4-0.
However, Northwest missed out on the state playoffs, finishing 15-11 overall and 11-9 in region games for fifth place. Cass went 12-14 overall and 9-11 in league play.
With the new six-classification format, Northwest (19-4) and Cass (15-8) stayed put and received a new group of opponents. For both teams, things have been better in 2013. The Bruins finished 14-1 in league play to claim the Sub-region 7B-4A title while the Colonels went 8-4 for Sub-region 7A-4A’s prize.
“I do think that helps, knowing them a little bit,” Northwest coach Todd Middleton said. “If it had been River Ridge or Cedartown, then we wouldn’t know anything about them. We haven’t played Cedartown in many years.
“I do think Cass is the best team from that half of the region, from what I’ve heard.”
The two teams haven’t played yet this season, but the names of some players will be familiar. Northwest’s ace this season, sophomore Seth Pierce, had success against Cass as a freshman. In two wins last year, he threw 10 scoreless innings with only six hits allowed. Edwin Hernandez, Brady Middleton, Diego Peralta and Brandon Smith contributed to the team’s offensive outputs in those games.
This season, Hernandez and Peralta are tied for the team lead in RBIs with 28, while Middleton’s .451 batting average is the Bruins’ best.
“It’s good to know we have seen the team before and know a little bit about who we’re playing,” said the younger Middleton, a second baseman and the coach’s son. “It does give us some confidence, but we know it will be a different team from last year.”
Coach Middleton said his scouting reports on the Colonels include phrases such as “good pitching,” “solid defense” and “a lot like us.” Pierce is 6-2 with a 0.83 ERA this season, while Andy Whisenant (6-1, 3.37) and Wade Terrell (5-0, 1.62) also have been successful. Those are the three starters the Bruins have used during all of their three-game series in sub-region play this year.
“All I know right now is Seth is going to pitch game one,” coach Middleton said. “We’ll go from there.”
Cass’ sub-region schedule included more bumps and uncertainty than Northwest’s. The Colonels started by winning two of three against Gilmer and Pickens but lost two of three to River Ridge, putting them at 5-4 and in a tie for second in the sub-region. In the final series, Cass swept first-place Cedartown to win the sub-region.
The Bruins’ only loss came this past Thursday to LaFayette.
“We’re not really looking at that,” coach Middleton said. “It’s apples and oranges. I’m not really sure what they had to deal with over there and they aren’t sure what we had. I know the top three teams in our half were pretty competitive all the way through to the end of the season. It’s really hard to compare anything like that. These guys don’t think about things like that too much.”