Spots in the state quarterfinals will be on the line this week for the three Cherokee County baseball teams remaining in the state playoffs.
Woodstock moved its second-round series to Wednesday night to avoid potential weather forecast for Friday, while Etowah and River Ridge will each begin their road series Thursday.
River Ridge (18-13) needed a walk-off in Game 2 and a nine-run sixth inning in Game 3 to advance past Cambridge in the first round, and coach Scott Bradley said the close call could help his team at Winder-Barrow (28-3).
“They should be encouraged, hopefully,” Bradley said. “We were getting no-hit going into the sixth inning. To score nine runs there and go on to win is impressive. It shows the fight in our guys, and their never-quit attitude. We continue to compete and work, and we were able to pull it out. We’re all excited and working hard.”
Things will only get more difficult this week against a Winder-Barrow team that outscored Creekside 21-2 in a first-round sweep.
Led by 6-foot-7 Georgia commit Cain Tatum on the mound and a lineup that features five players hitting .368 or better, the Bulldoggs have won 20 games in a row.
River Ridge should have some hope, though.
Brandon Smith will start Game 1 after throwing a four-hit shutout in a second-round sweep of Winder-Barrow a year ago, and Aaron Osada, who is set to start Game 2, is pitching his best of the season.
“Last year, we played them,” Bradley said. “They have a lot of the same players and some new transfers. They have some good arms. We’ll go in the same way we did last year. We have a new team this year, too. They’re a year older. I know that’s a big difference, but I think pitching and defense are both even better than they were last year for us.”
Etowah (21-11) will also have some familiarity when it travels to Kennesaw Mountain (20-10-1).
The Eagles beat the Mustangs 2-1 on March 7, and while both teams have changed since then, Etowah coach Greg Robinson said he saw enough to know the kind of game his team will be in.
“We played those guys early in the year,” Robinson said. “It was a well-pitched game on both sides. They play in a good region, so they’re definitely battle-tested. They’re playing good baseball. They have good arms and good defense. We have to match that.”
Kennesaw Mountain's Gavin Scaggs threw a shutout and Jarrett Guest allowed one run in six innings in a first-round sweep of East Coweta, though the Etowah bats are beginning to heat up.
Micahel Sharman, Conor Bowen, Bryant Madden and Ryan Lobus are all coming off productive series at the plate, while Jacob Fletcher, Blaise Fischer and Adam Metevier all pitched well to lead an Etowah team with a new approach.
“I’m pleased with where we are,” Robinson said. “We’re starting to get more seniors who understand the sense of urgency. We had a chance to control our destiny at the end of the year, and we didn’t play well. We fell to the fourth seed, but now we have that chance again, and we’re taking advantage of it.”