There’s little doubt the Greyhounds have the hitters to make another deep run in the state playoffs, one year after making their second straight quarterfinal appearance.
Its Pope’s pitching that’s in question.
Its ace last season, Duane Underwood, was a second-round pick of the Chicago Cubs and is now proving himself as a professional. Another starter, Joe Wiseman, is at Georgia Tech. Ben Levine is pitching at Piedmont College.
The Greyhounds do have three pitchers returning, but there are six others who haven’t played at the varsity level, and they will probably need seasoning before Pope’s Region 7AAAAA schedule gets started at Riverwood on March 4. Juniors Patrick Wiseman and Stephen Skruck are penciled in as the top two starters, but the No. 3 starter — not to mention, as the Greyhounds’ entire bullpen — is in question.
Pope coach Jeff Rowland said the battle will be ongoing in region play.
Kell and Sprayberry missed the playoffs last season, but the Longhorns are expected to be stronger with a senior-laden team, and the Yellow Jackets are stocked with juniors that have varsity experience.
“We’re going to have to rely on scoring runs until the pitchers get it going for us,” Rowland said. “Hopefully, our pitching will come along because we have guys coming up who have shown they can swing it pretty good at this point.”
Senior third baseman Nathaniel Lowe finished last season with a .342 average and led Pope with 18 RBIs. The Greyhounds also have four returning players — Wiseman, junior first baseman Wes Smith and junior outfielder Jake Henson — who each finished with more than 10 RBIs.
Allatoona is in the same situation as Pope in regards of pitching after losing the three starters — Clate Schmidt (Clemson), Lucas Brown (Northwest Florida State CC) and Michael Royal (Kennesaw State) — who led the Buccaneers to the AAA state quarterfinals.
But coach Keith Hanson said he has quality pitchers taking their place. Junior Clark Schmidt — Clate’s younger brother — already has offers from Georgia and South Carolina, while senior T.J Watson and senior Ian McCloskey will also factor into the starting rotation.
“These three guys should be solid pitchers who should give us four to five innings a night,” Hansen said. “We’re excited about the guys coming in, but we are losing a lot of experience.”
As the Buccaneers make the transition from Class AAA to AAAAA, where they will be challenged by their Paulding County rivals in Region 5AAAAA, they will have seven seniors and their top three hitters back from last year.
Watson, senior first baseman Bradley Lewis and senior outfielder Austin Rogers are expected to play a role at the top of the lineup. Rogers is a career .390 hitter, and Lewis will likely bat cleanup after leading Allatoona in home runs and RBIs a year ago.
Mount Paran Christian, which finished with a 26-4 record and won Region 6A in 2012, is favored to win the region once again and make a deep playoff run after getting stopped in the second round by Eagle’s Landing Christian.
The Eagles have eight starters and seniors returning this season. Senior first baseman Ryan Murphy hit .486 last season, junior outfielder Andrew Maxwell returns after maintaining a .369 average and senior outfielder Colton Cannon (.360) is also expected to resume his duties.
“These group of seniors have been to the round of 16 twice,” said new Mount Paran coach Kyle Reese, who took over for former coach Harvey Cochran. “With everyone coming back, expectations are high. Their goal is to win region and go deeper in the state tournament.”