by Rob Grubbs
Three of the four local teams advanced to the second round of the GHSA state baseball playoffs last week. The march to the championship continues as all three will be in action on Thursday to get to the final eight.
All series are best-of-three with a double header on Thursday and the if game on Friday if needed.
Unfortunately, the Fayette County Tigers were eliminated by Wayne County, one of the top teams in the state, but that does not take away from their season. The Tigers returned to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years, and that experience will prepare them for next season.
Locust Grove Wildcats (20-8) at Starr’s Mill Panthers (28-4)
Coach Brent Moseley’s team fended off a pesky Ware County team in two one-run games to earn the opportunity to host the 2016 state champion Wildcats. The two teams faced off in the opening game of the 2019 which saw the Panthers when an easy 10-0 game. That was a long time ago, and both teams have improved significantly over the course of the season.
Locust Grove has top-of-the-line starting pitching in Cole English and Joe Roden, while the heart of their lineup consists of Luke Welborn, Josh Newton, and Dalton Laney. This will be the toughest challenge yet for the young region champs, but they have consistently risen to the occasion all season.
McIntosh Chiefs (21-9) at Ola Mustangs (23-9)
The Chiefs are no strangers to Ola. They eliminated McIntosh from the playoffs last year and have beaten then twice this season, albeit one of those was an exhibition and Sun Trust Park. The Chiefs had an exciting sweep of South Effingham last week in which they used late-game dramatics and solid relief pitching to move on.
McIntosh coach Tom Kelley is also familiar with Ola. He coached there for four years, and he knows the program well.
“We played them in our first game of the season, but we have gotten better since then,” said Kelley. “We know they are a very dangerous team. They have three really good arms in Evan Boyle, Tyler Richardson, and Patrick Holliman. We are going to see some good pitching, so we have to be ready to play.”
Whitewater Wildcats (19-9) at Harris County Tigers (22-8)
Coach Rusty Bennett’s team has earned the honor as the team that no one wants to play, the one that gets hot at the end of the season and makes a playoff run. After losing a heartbreaking game one to the Statesboro Blue Devils, the Wildcats responded with back-to-back wins to go to the second round.
“That first game hurt,” said Bennett. “It was tough, but we got them in the outfield during the break and reminded them who they are.”
The Wildcat offense responded with 10 runs in the second game and senior Jacob Atha pitched a masterful game to force a deciding game three. Bennett went with Dylan Morris in the finale, and he must have been taking good notes during Atha’s performance as he completely shut down the Blue Devils and the Wildcat offense scored some runs late for the 3-0 series clinching win.
The Tigers went undefeated in Region 1-AAAAA but lost their first playoff game against Union Grove before coming back like the Wildcats did.