Following a one-year hiatus, GHSA postseason baseball will return this week.
The Newton County area will have three representatives in their respective state playoff brackets. Social Circle (Class A-Public) and Eastside (Class AAAAA) earned No. 3 seeds, while Newton punched its ticket to the Class AAAAAAA postseason as a No. 4 seed.
First pitch will be here before you know it, so let’s take a look at each of the first-round series:
No. 3 Social Circle at No. 2 Taylor County
When: April 29-30
Where: Butler, Ga.
Winner’s Next Opponent: No. 1 ACE Charter/No. 4 Mt. Zion (Carrollton)
The Redskins (15-14, 12-6 Region 8) came into the year hoping to continue a rebuild in their second season under the leadership of head coach Kevin Dawkins.
They’ve instead exceeded expectations, ripping off 11 wins in their first dozen region games and riding it out for a 3 seed in the playoffs.
Social Circle’s non-region slate was chock-full of postseason opponents as the club battled the likes of Eastside, Walnut Grove, Glenwood (Ala.) and Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy. The club posted a pedestrian 3-8 mark outside of league play, but Dawkins and his staff understand that the experience gained was invaluable.
“We played playoff-caliber teams this year with the idea that we might not win them all, but it would be good experience in terms of having a playoff team and seeing those arms and what that looks like,” Dawkins said. “We did that so that when we get to the playoffs, we’ve been put in situations that are going to be emulated in playoff series.”
Coming into the year with just two upperclassmen — one senior and one junior — on the roster, this team’s biggest question mark was inexperience. With 29 games now under their belt, the youthful Redskins will battle another squad in Taylor County — one which has only gained half their game experience.
The Vikings (7-7, 6-4 Region 5) were forced to cancel a multitude of games this spring due to three teams dropping out of their region at the last minute. Nevertheless, they played .500 ball through 14 games and earned a No. 2 seed for the big dance.
Social Circle is hopeful that playing twice the number of games will work in their favor, but they’re throwing records out the window now that they’ve slipped into the postseason.
“Anytime you get into the playoffs, everything kind of resets at that point,” Dawkins said. “Everybody’s 0-0, and anything can happen in playoff baseball.”
The Redskins are expected to throw Jason Ball and Ty Lemaster, the respective Nos. 1 and 2 in their rotation all spring, in the first two games Thursday. Game 1 is scheduled for 5 p.m., with Game 2 following 30 minutes after its completion. If necessary, Game 3 would take place at 4 p.m. Friday.
No. 3 Eastside at No. 2 St. Pius X
When: April 28-29
Where: Atlanta, Ga.
Winner’s Next Opponent: No. 1 Blessed Trinity/No. 4 Grady
You couldn’t ask for a much stronger finish to the regular season than what the Eagles (21-8, 10-4 Region 8) produced over the last few weeks.
After being swept by Walnut Grove, the team responded by taking out its aggression against the likes of Jones County and Jackson County before capitalizing on quality pitching and timely hitting to sweep the two-game series with top-ranked Loganville.
Yes, Eastside does appear to be clicking just in time for the playoffs. But don’t expect head coach Brandon Crumbley’s squad to rest on its laurels.
“We played some really decent baseball late and played some kind of poor baseball in the middle. Obviously beating Loganville here late, that’s great and all, but we’ve got to move on from it,” Crumbley said. “Yes, it was great to get some confidence moving into the postseason. But we can’t let those two wins be the highlight and the exclamation point of our season.”
The Golden Lions (21-8, 14-2 Region 5) outscored opponents 288-85 this season and will provided yet another tall task for the Eagles. But while Crumbley is keeping his team humble and hungry, he believes they’re up for the challenge.
“When you have to show up every single day to compete in the region, and you don’t have a day to take off, it just helps you get better as a team in the long run,” Crumbley said, “and ultimately [helps you] for the playoffs.”
Crumbley isn’t ready to commit to his series rotation. While ace southpaw Cade Mitchell would be appear to be the favorite to go Game 1, with fellow lefty Holden Hall taking the mound in Game 2, the Eagles could experiment with their staff.
“We’re coming out with some ideas and thinking of some things,” Crumbley admitted. “We’ll make that decision probably [Tuesday,] or maybe even Wednesday on our way up there. There’s 18 million different ways you can look at it, but ultimately the kids have got to show up and play.
“We’re going to do our best job to put them in the best position to be able to win. We’ll see what happens.”
Game 1 is set for Wednesday at 1 p.m., with Game 2 scheduled to follow 30 minutes after its completion. If the series goes to Game 3, that would be played Thursday at 4 p.m.
No. 4 Newton at No. 1 Lowndes
When: April 29-30
Where: Valdosta, Ga.
Winner’s Next Opponent: No. 2 Walton/No. 3 Newnan
The Rams (9-18, 3-9 Region 4) will try to stop the bleeding when they travel down to Valdosta on Thursday.
Following a promising start, they closed out the regular season on a 13-game losing streak. They’ve been outscored 160-26 over the course of the slump. But while Newton took its lumps, sharing a region with three teams ranked in the top 10 entering the playoffs (No. 3 Grayson, No. 4 Parkview, No. 8 Brookwood) could pay dividends in the postseason.
“Once we get into the playoffs, there shouldn’t be anything that we haven’t seen,” interim head coach David Scharff said. “With that being said, we still have to go out and capitalize. We can’t act like we haven’t seen whatever Lowndes throws at us offensively or defensively. We’ve seen everything.”
The Vikings (20-10, 8-4 Region 1) had depth in their lineup and rotation all spring, which they used to win their region outright.
“It all starts with us, though,” Scharff said. “We’ve got to go out there and execute. We’ve got o play the type of ball we were earlier in the season.”
The Rams took down Stockbridge, Monroe Area and Jasper County within their first five games of the 2021 campaign. They also won both legs of a two-game series with Alcovy and opened region play with a three-game sweep of South Gwinnett.
Their series against Lowndes will get underway Thursday at 4:30 p.m., followed 30 minutes later by Game 2. An if-necessary Game 3 is tentatively scheduled for Friday at 5:30 p.m.