Sports

May 3, 2013

Bruins host 4A baseball series, Lions head for Macon

Because of the way its region was set up, Northwest Whitfield High School’s baseball team has been playing three-game series for most of this season.

Bruins coach Todd Middleton thinks that will help when the Georgia High School Association state playoffs begin today.

Region 7-4A champion Northwest hosts Grady in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs, with the best-of-three series starting with a 3 p.m. doubleheader at Richard S. Chumley Field in Tunnel Hill. A third game, if necessary, would be Saturday at 5 p.m. at the same location.

Christian Heritage School will play at Macon’s First Presbyterian Day School in the first round of the Class A private schools state playoffs, with today’s doubleheader starting at 4 p.m. The third game, if necessary, would be Saturday at a time to be determined.

Atlanta’s Grady (10-12) finished fifth in Region 6-4A during the regular season but won a best-of-three series against Chamblee to earn the league’s fourth and final state playoffs berth. Marist won the region, Redan finished second and Columbia grabbed the No. 3 seed.

“It looked like Marist beat everybody pretty handily except for Redan, which won the first game of that series,” Bruins coach Todd Middleton said. “Redan handled everyone below them and Columbia handled everyone below them.”

Now Grady must do something no other team has done this year — beat Northwest (21-5) twice in a three-game series.

Region 7-4A, which is divided into two sub-regions for baseball, used a three-game-series format for league play in which each team played its sub-region foes three times over the span of one week.

“We’re used to it,” Middleton said. “We’ve got a game plan. Our goal has been to win every series we’ve been in.”

Northwest won all five of its sub-region series, losing only one game, and then won the region championship last week with a 2-1 series victory against the Cass Colonels in Tunnel Hill. It’s the first league title for the Bruins — who rallied to win the second and third games against Cass — since 2007.

Northwest is viewing a region title not as the ultimate goal but a celebrated step along the way.

“Our next goal was to go as far as we can in state,” Middleton said. “That’s where we are. Every week we’ve looked like we have a different job to do. Each job has three parts.”

First Presbyterian Day (20-1) went 10-0 to win the Region 7-A title and earn an automatic berth in the state playoffs, while Christian Heritage (12-11), a Region 6-A school, made it to this point via the GHSA’s power rankings, which reward teams for their wins and wins by their opponents. The top 16 private schools and the top 16 public schools qualify for their respective brackets, and the Lions are the No. 13 seed.

Like Christian Heritage, First Presbyterian Day was a member of the Georgia Independent School Association. The Vikings, who won the 1997 and 2010 GISA Class 3A state championships under current head coach Jim Turner, moved to GHSA competition in the 2011 season. The Lions are in their first year of GHSA play, and they are the school’s first program to make the state playoffs.

“They have a good tradition of good baseball in the GISA,” Christian Heritage coach Noah Stokes said, “and it has carried over into the GHSA. I know they’ll be coached well.”

Last season, before the subdivision of private and public schools for Class A, First Presbyterian Day defeated Marietta’s Walker in a three-game series to advance past the Class A preliminary round and reach the 32-team bracket. However, the Vikings were swept by Holy Innocents’ in that round.

The other teams from Region 6 to reach the private schools state playoffs are Mount Paran Christian (No. 3 seed), Darlington (No. 5), Mount Pisgah Christian (No. 9) and King’s Ridge Christian (No. 11). In the public schools bracket, Gordon Lee (No. 5) and Trion (No. 11) are the two Region 6 programs to reach the postseason.

“We know that our region has prepared us well,” Stokes said. “Our region was tough. We certainly could’ve come out on the better side of some of those. ... We’re just thankful for the opportunity to have a chance.”

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