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Woodstock’s Preston Gunnell is tagged out at second by Cherokee’s Nate Courtwright during a 2021 game. Courtwright is one of the key returners as the Warriors work to build on the highest win total in team history.

“Beyond 22” is the motto Cherokee’s baseball program has adopted in pursuit of another successful season.

The Warriors won a team-record 22 games last year and are now on a mission to eclipse that mark.

Cherokee started the season with a challenging schedule in the Georgia Dugout Club tournament, but it has since won seven straight games and beat perennial powerhouse Walton in the process.

“We have a really talented group,” fourth-year coach Josh Thomas said. “Our thing this year is we want to go beyond 22. We are trying to grow and develop young men who are going to be successful in society, and we also want to win more games than last season. We set a school record, but we still want to be better.”

The Warriors started the 2022 season 3-4, but after their latest win streak, they sit at 10-4 as Region 5AAAAAAA competition begins. Cherokee defeated Milton 4-0 on Monday to start the region slate.

Cherokee had a 12-3 region record last season but still finished behind Woodstock in the standings. In 2022, the program is heavily focused on securing its first region title.

“The big goal right in front of us now is to win the first region championship in school history,” Thomas said. “We make the comment all the time about how there are all those region banners in our gym, and none of them say ‘baseball’ on them.”

Cherokee has plenty of promise and opportunity to hang that first region banner. The Warriors have an older, more experienced roster, with 11 returning seniors who all contribute on a nightly basis.

Through the first month of the season, Cherokee already has some quality wins over Walton, Harrison and Archer. The Warriors also beat county rival Sequoyah 8-2 in the season opener.

Outfielder Aiden Smith has been on fire during Cherokee’s stretch of seven straight victories, hitting leadoff and consistently getting on base to create scoring opportunities. The 1-2 punch of Smith and Nate Courtwright has helped the Warriors’ offense become even more dangerous.

Chase and Tyler Goddard have been bright spots in Cherokee’s pitching staff, along with Dylan Holcomb and the younger Liam Kirkman. The Warriors’ pitching staff already has five shutouts, and that trend is likely to continue.

Lex Kenny is also back after suffering a torn MCL in his knee and undergoing Tommy John surgery. Thomas said Kenny is healthy and contributing in Cherokee’s outfield.

“We knew we were talented,” Thomas said. “We lost a few really top-of-the-line senior leaders, but the core of our team is in this year’s senior class. We have 11 seniors, and all of them are competitive. When it is all said and done, they all have a chance to go play in college.”

Cherokee’s roster is filled with talent, and with abundance of seniors, the time is now for the Warriors to break through in Region 5AAAAAAA. Momentum from last year has carried over, and solid hitting has complemented a shut-down pitching staff.

Region 5AAAAAAA is shaping up to be a tough group again this season, with Woodstock and Etowah also starting strong. Cherokee’s players, though, have cemented themselves in the conversation.

“We knew that we would need some guys to emerge and lead us offensively,” Thomas said. “There were a few guys we had to replace from last year, and we were curious to see who would step up and fill those roles. We have it, though. Everybody has stepped up.”

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