Cherokee County baseball teams will look to maintain their place among the state’s best this week when they begin their playoff runs Wednesday.
Woodstock and Etowah in Class AAAAAAA and River Ridge and Creekview in Class AAAAAA are all still alive, though only the Wolverines will begin their run at home against Camden County.
“We’re excited,” Woodstock coach Jeff Brown said. “This is the second year in school history we’ve been able to host a playoff series. It was good to solidify that No. 2 seed last week and stay at home. We can stay in our normal routine and hopefully be pretty comfortable last year.”
Woodstock (20-10) is coming off trips to the state championship and semifinals in the last two seasons and will host the Wildcats (17-11) for the second straight year.
Much has changed in the Wolverines’ young rotation since, with the exception of Josiah Siegel. Camden County, however, is set to roll out the same two pitchers, Aaron Wainwright and Chris Mobley, to face Brennan Milone, Spencer Keefe and the rest of the Woodstock lineup.
“Things are different this year,” Brown said. “We’re young in the pitching staff. We’ve seen those kids step up a lot this year, but the playoffs are always tough. We have to play a little different. W eknow they’re going to try to keep the score down, so we need our offense to perform.”
Etowah (19-11) will have to travel to play Lowndes (18-10), but that could actually work out well for the Eagles.
Over the last two seasons, Etowah has gone 6-1 in playoff road series, and coach Greg Robinson said he hopes his team can continue that trend.
“Our goal is to always to compete for the region championship and host playoff games,” he said. “We’ve had a tendency to have to go on the road, but because of our past success on the road, we feel good about it. It’s frustrating as a coach, but the players seem to enjoy it and have success there.”
Led by Michael Sharman and Connor Bowen, Etowah has averaged 5.4 runs per game this season, but they will be challenged to score runs against a rotation led by Cameron Carter (1.06 ERA) and Dalton Smith (2.10 ERA).
It will not be the first time the Eagles face tough competition, though, after playing the state’s most difficult schedule this season.
“We’re playing a region champion with several Division I signees,” Robinson said. “They’re experienced. Historically, they’ve had really strong athletics. They’re definitely a formidable opponent, but I think we’re ready for that by this point.”
In Class AAAAAA, River Ridge (16-12) will look for its third straight semifinal appearance against Cambridge (15-12).
A rocky start to the season has become a distant memory as Brandon Smith has settled in to lead the pitching staff, and Ethan Anderson has sparked the offense to lead the Knights to four straight wins to end the regular season.
“The last 21 games, we’re 16-5. We had a couple close games, so we could pretty easily be 18-3 in that stretch,” River Ridge coach Scott Bradley said. “At this time, we’re playing really well. It didn’t start out that way, but we’ve ironed some of that out and are playing better now.”
Though their record may not show it, Bradley said the Bears are one of the best teams in the state.
Led by Ryan Todd atop the lineup and Casey Young in the rotation, Cambridge has faced a difficult schedule this year that could help in the postseason.
“You look at their record,” Bradley said. “They’re right around where we are, but the record isn’t always what it seems. They’ve played some of the best teams in the state. They’re better than their record looks.”
Creekview (15-10) is making its first playoff appearance since 2015 and will face two-time defending state champion Pope (23-5).
“They’re about as good as it gets for getting into the playoffs and going on deep runs consistently,” Creekview coach Mike Nayman said. “At some point, they found a blueprint that works and found players to fit that. I don’t know how different they are year to year. At times, you look at a program and see the names and faces change, but they’re getting the same result.”
The Greyhounds still have Max Pralgo and Buddy Floyd leading the way, but Nayman said he thinks the likes of Joey Gill and Griffin and Grant Potts can continue their successful seasons to lead an upset bid.
A sweep at the hands of Allatoona to end the season dropped the Grizzlies to the fourth seed, but they won 11 of 2 prior to that series, giving Nayman hope for a sustained run.
“We were playing really well,” Nayman said. “We were winning games, but we ran into a good team at the end of the season. It’s hard to say exactly how we looked at the end, but I think we showed we’re capable of stringing some wins together.”