With most of the teams/schools off this week with Spring Break, here's a look at which teams have been the best with just a couple of weeks left in the season. The baseball playoffs are coming, but there are still some important region battles to take place some big games left to determine final playoff seeding. This is a ranking of how good the teams are so far based primarily on region play, competitiveness, non-region play and head-to-head matchups.
1. Eastside - The Eagle have been the best baseball team between the two counties this season and it's not by a mile but it's also not that close. Eastside boasts an 13-5 record, including a 9-3 mark in Region 4-AAAA. Three of the Eagles' losses came in succession to teams that were ranked ahead of them by the AJC (Locust Grove twice and Pike County). Eastside lost its two games to Locust Grove by a combined three runs and could have beaten both of them had it not been for an insurmountable number of errors by Eastside's defense. First year head coach, Bruce Evans has helped boost the Eagles' offense and they're finally getting back their pitchers. Evans and co. are a formidable bunch, they have a good offense and when they don't make errors the defense is equally strong - barring some unforeseen injury or crazy upset the Eagles could make a deep playoff run.
2. Salem - Led by Bobby Link, the Seminoles have established themselves as a formidable force in Region 8-AAAAA, a tough region to be good in. Salem has had quality showings against Gainesville and Winder-Barrow, two of the best teams in the region, splitting the two-game series with both of them. The ‘Noles have yet to play Heritage and beat Newton in both games. With an impressive 11-5 record (5-3 Region 8-AAAAA), Salem is a top-five team in the region and one of the best baseball teams in the Newton/Rockdale area. The Seminoles have some good pitching with Chris Simonds and Kevin Barham and they also can put the bat on the ball, not as well as some of the other teams but well enough to go off against subpar pitching and score enough runs to stay in the game against teams that pitch well.
3. RCHS - Rockdale started off its non-region schedule just 2-4, but the Bulldogs used a winning streak to push their record to 9-6 and 6-0 in Region 2-AAAAAA play before losing three-straight to Tucker last week. The Bulldogs just fought off Newton for third place, as the Rams are 8-9 while the Bulldogs are 9-9, but the real test to determine which team is better will come in a couple of weeks when the teams face-off in a season series finale. For now, Rockdale is one game ahead of Newton in the region standings and that one simple game has them ahead of the Rams...for now.
4. Newton - Newton has come on strong in its last six games. The Rams don't have a strong senior core like they did last year, but they've made the best of the team they have. Studs like Alex Johnson, Augustus Murray and Mason Calloway have stood out and played well helping to lift Newton to its stellar record. A thing that has kept Newton behind early in the season was its lack of offense, but that's changed over the last four games in which the Rams have scored over 40 runs. Newton also met up with the two toughest teams in the region already (Lakeside and Tucker) and managed to steal one game against each team in a three-game series. Newton played Tucker the closes, coming within a play or two of sweeping the Tucker Tigers. After winning the final game against Tucker, Newton swept cross-town rival Alcovy and pretty much locked up a spot in the state playoffs. The Rockdale/Newton series will be a pivotal one in determining which of these teams is the best at the end of the season and which one has the higher seed.
5. Heritage - Coming off a season that saw the Patriots go 18-18 and 11-5 in region play, this season hasn't been of equal value as last season for Heritage. The Patriots are 11-7 and 6-5 in Region 8-AAAAA. To finish with the same record they did last year, would require Heritage to go undefeated for the rest of the way - possible, but unlikely. Of its 15-plus players, Heritage has just 10 0r 11 players that are healthy. However, despite the injuries, the Patriots still have a shot at the playoffs as they're just behind Salem in the region standings. Heritage has some talent on its pitching staff and they've dealt with a myriad of injuries to that staff. Making a run in the final games of the season could give Heritage enough to get into the big dance and then, who knows?
6. Alcovy - Alcovy has talent but errors and inconsistent offense have kept them from being the team they're capable of being. The Tigers are 2-18 (0-9 Region 2-AAAAAA) and have been virtually eliminated from the playoffs this year. Alcovy doesn't have a lot of seniors, but they do have 11 juniors on its 16-man roster. With next year's stacked class including Hunter Phillips, Quintin Grizzard and Chandler White, the Tigers could find themselves back in the thick of the playoff race.