MPC, Pope, Walton hope to take next step toward titles
by Adam Carrington
May 12, 2013 11:05 PM | 2681 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Mount Paran Christian’s Jake Palomaki will try to lead the Eagles into the Class A Private School state championship series when they face off with George Walton Academy today
Mount Paran Christian’s Jake Palomaki will try to lead the Eagles into the Class A Private School state championship series when they face off with George Walton Academy today
Coach Jeff Rowland said after Pope’s three-game series victory over Winder-Barrow in the second round of the state tournament was “mentally and physically draining.”

At the same time, Rowland has been coaching baseball long enough to know that all postseason series are like that, and he can deal with the stress for as long as his team keeps winning.

After prevailing 6-5 Friday in the deciding game, which required eight innings, to advance to the quarterfinals for the third straight year, the Greyhounds will return to work Tuesday to host Evans in the Class AAAAA state tournament. Pope may be due for a state semifinal appearance after coming up short the last two seasons.

“We just have to improve on what we do,” Rowland said. “We need to keep swinging our bats because that’s our M.O., and pitching will have to give us a chance to win ball games.”

Pope has the offensive firepower to make it that far. The Greyhounds have relied on their bats all season and will continue to do so. Nathaniel Lowe, Stephen Skruck and Mason Shiflett are all batting above .400 with Lowe leading with a .481 average. He’s also leads the team with eight home runs and 35 RBIs.

The Greyhounds’ pitching is young, but Pope may not be playing right now had it not been for their relievers in Game 3 of the Winder-Barrow series.

Chip Mattiford, Chris Habla and Braden Zarbinsky combined for one run on two hits in three innings of work while striking out four. Habla was called on to get Pope out of a bases-loaded situation and left all three runners stranded.

“Our relief pitchers did very well in the last series,” Rowland said. “They stepped up and gave us a chance. We’ll need more of the same from them (Tuesday).”

The Greyhounds aren’t the only local baseball team still playing.

Walton will host Tift County in the Class AAAAAA state quarterfinal Tuesday after winning a pair of come-from-behind decisions over Norcross. Mount Paran Christian, in its first full year under coach Kyle Reese, is on the road at George Walton in the Class A private school semifinals. The Eagles’ three-game series begins with a doubleheader today.

For Walton, it’s about finding ways to stay alive.

Tift County won both of its series in three games, the first coming against Region 4AAAAAA champion McEachern, and have won the first and third games of both. If Walton can win that first game against Tift County, like it did in its two previous series in the postseason, the Raiders will be in good shape.

“Winning that first game helps you relax a little bit and you know that you can end (the doubleheader) tonight,” Walton coach Shane Amos said. “If you drop that first game, it puts you behind the eight-ball and you’re under a little more pressure.”

Walton has four pitchers who can start starting pitchers when the pressure is on along with bats that come alive in clutch situations. Bradley Schwartz, Will White and Stephen Wrenn have been Walton’s consistent starting three with reliever Caleb Bohan working almost just as many innings as the previous three.

Going up against a team that is used to winning Game 3s, the Raiders may need big innings from all four.

Mount Paran will look to avoid another Game 3 when the Eagles play at George Walton.

It took that many for them to eliminate King’s Ridge, but they controlled that third game with five runs in the first two innings before winning 7-2. Matt McKenzie had a two-run home run in the game and Robert Wilson threw six innings and gave up just three hits.

Messages left for Mount Paran’s Reese were not returned.

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