by Rob Grubbs
It was a clean sweep in Region 3-AAAAA, as all four teams that advanced to the state playoffs hail from Fayette. All will be in action today for the first round against opponents from Region 2-AAAAA. The top two will host, and the 3rd and 4th seeds will have to travel three hours away.
Fayette Co. (10-17) at Wayne County (17-12)
Fayette County head coach Matthew Coldiron and the Tigers embark on a road trip to Jesup to take on the region champion Wayne County Yellow Jackets. Wayne County was the state runner up two seasons ago, losing to Loganville at Grayson Stadium in Savannah. In addition to their region championship, they have impressive wins over Jones County and Lambert in non-region action.
They are led by The Citadel signee Gant Starling, a right-handed pitcher who can reach the 90s, and Brice Miller, also a right-handed pitcher headed to Augusta State. The Yellow Jackets also have catcher James Mauldin and shortstop Cooper Martin to lead the offense.
The Tigers earned their way into the playoffs after a series win against the Griffin Bears midway through the season which clinched the fourth sport. It will be important to get solid innings from Tucker Dorrity, Zach Scott, and Tyler Patrick to scratch out a first-round win.
A Tiger upset in the first round would send Fayette to the winner of the Jones County/Thomas County Central series.
Whitewater (17-9) at Statesboro (16-14)
The Wildcats will also be off for a long road trip down I-16 to Statesboro to face the Blue Devils. After fighting for the region down to the final week, Coach Rusty Bennett’s team settled for the three seed but not before an impressive win over eventual region champion Starr’s Mill.
Statesboro just missed a region championship as they lost two one-run games to eventual champion Wayne County, one in extra innings. The Blue Devils pitching staff is led by Mikal Mascarello and Bradley Gronefeld, while JD Kaiser is a top-level catcher and Jackson Proctor carries a big bat.
The Wildcats will look to their ace Chase Townsend in the all-important game one. Landon Busby and Chris Buchannan will look to carry the offense.
A Wildcat series win would pit them against the winner of the Union Grove/Harris County series next week.
South Effingham (17-13) at McIntosh (19-9)
McIntosh Chiefs first-year head coach Tom Kelley and his team earned a first-round series at home after they wrapped up their region schedule last week against Fayette County. Led by a solid group of seniors, including Ty Bulter, Andrew Pinckney, Ryan Sanders, and Jack Bukowski, the Chiefs face a solid South Effingham team from Guyton.
The key will be Game 1, where Butler will face Piedmont College signee Jakob Valleroy for the early series advantage. Valleroy may be the best pitcher from Region 2-AAAAA and a tall challenge for the Chiefs lineup. Coach Kelley will go with pitcher Braxton Roop, who improved throughout the season, in Game 2. Dylan Wallace will also pitch for the Mustangs and will lead their offense from his middle infield position.
If the Chiefs win, they will face the winner of the Veterans/Ola Series next week. Coincidentally, McIntosh just played Ola this past Saturday in a showcase game at Sun Trust Park.
Ware County (7-22) at Starr’s Mill (26-4)
The region champion Starr’s Mill Panthers will host the Ware County Gators in round 1. While the Gators record may not be stellar, they are a young team and have they the ability to steal a win. Caleb Stewart is a switch-hitting sophomore who can play anywhere and even pitch.
Head coach Brent Moseley will not let his team overlook the youthful Gators. Eli Jones will get the ball for game one and look for his offense led by Ryan Henderson, Brian Port, and Thad Ector to build a quick lead.
If the Panthers win, they will host the winner of the Locust Grove/Bainbridge series next week.