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February 18, 2013

Prep Baseball Preview

Baseball is heating up

The figurative sun is about to rise on another high school baseball season, whether or not there’s much literal warmth for the boys of spring.

Georgia High School Association baseball teams were allowed to begin practice on Jan. 28 and can hold their first official regular-season contests starting today. Although the area forecast doesn’t have temperatures rising above the 50s until late in the week, several teams will begin play this week, and all will be in action on the diamond by next week.

One notable change this season is that all seven local high school baseball teams will compete in the GHSA, with Christian Heritage joining the group after previously playing in the Georgia Independent School Association. Reclassification has meant that most teams will be in a different region this season, and even for those in a region with the same name, the company is different.

No matter how cold it might be as Christian Heritage, Coahulla Creek, Dalton, Murray County, North Murray, Northwest Whitfield and Southeast Whitfield start their seasons, they’re all aiming to still be playing when the temperatures are much warmer. The GHSA postseason begins May 3, with the finals wrapping up later in the month.

With only two of those teams making the postseason a year ago, there’s little doubt more area programs hope to be in the state-bound crowd for 2013.

Here’s a glance at each local team:

Christian Heritage

Lions coach Noah Stokes’ team is plunging into its first season of GHSA competition with what likely is the toughest single-game challenge in the program’s history.

Christian Heritage — which ended its five-year run in the GISA by losing a best-of-three state quarterfinals series with Thomasville’s Brookwood last spring — will make a long trip to the southeastern corner of the state today. The Lions will be in Folkston to open the season with a 5:45 p.m. matchup at Charlton County, last year’s Class A state runner-up.

Charlton finished 30-6 in 2012 after losing to Providence Christian in the championship series.

“That’s where I went to high school,” said Stokes, whose Lions were 18-8 a year ago. “We’re absolutely looking forward to playing in the GHSA and we’re going to see right away where we stand.”

The Lions will compete this year in Sub-region 6A-A, along with Darlington, Excel Christian, Gordon Lee, Mt. Zion-Carroll and Trion.

“GISA was a good brand of baseball, but didn’t have the depth of competition GHSA will provide,” Stokes said. “Our region will be tough and we believe we can make it stronger.”

Christian Heritage is led once again by Michael McKinney, who was selected to The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Baseball Team as a junior last season after batting .301, driving in 29 runs and slugging three home runs.

On the mound, McKinney posted a 2.17 ERA with 59 strikeouts in 58 innings, strengthening his pick as a utility player for the all-area lineup. He was also chosen to the GISA’s Class 2A All-State team.

The Lions also return three players who earned honorable mention spots on last year’s all-area squad — junior outfielder Jake Stokes (the coach’s son), senior catcher Tre Mason and sophomore pitcher/first baseman Spencer Robbins, who led the Lions in hitting as a freshman.

Robbins’ twin brother, Ian, is a middle infielder who will be sidelined by a shoulder injury to start the season. Like McKinney, Stokes and Mason, the Robbins brothers were all-region choices in 2012.

Junior infielder/pitcher Nich Bartley and sophomore pitcher/outfielder Brady Souther should also make solid contributions to this year’s team.

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