The Greyhounds won’t have to worry about chartering a bus – they will play out the state championship on their own field if given a chance. And the Region 7AAAAA champions will have that opportunity to play for a state title in Class AAAAA if they can get through Starr’s Mill in a best-of-three series that starts today.
Pope (24-10) won the Class AAAAA state four years ago, winning all its playoff series in its own park.
Walton (25-9) will have to make travel arrangements if it beats Region 5AAAAAA Roswell in the best-of-three Class AAAAAA semifinals series that starts today at Raider Mountain. The Raiders would either take the shorter trip to fellow 5AAAAAA rival Milton or head across the Atlanta metro-area to Gwinnett County to face Parkview.
“Well, any time you get to play at home is huge,” Pope coach Jeff Rowland said. “It’s the comfort of dressing out in your own locker room like you do every day at practice. We’re staying in a routine and it’s a nice comfort zone. You’re playing in front of your friends and your family and all that kind of stuff.”
Both Pope and Walton have won three series to get to this point with two of them going to a third game, which is another checkmark to have when playing on campus.
Pope is coming off a 12-2 victory over Winder-Barrow in its final game of its quarterfinal series after falling behind early. The Raiders jumped on Tift County early and held on for a 5-2 victory.
Being this deep into the playoffs, both teams will be tested.
Rowland said Starr’s Mill is a team that relies a lot of pitching and defense. The Panthers (28-4) have played 32 games this season and have given up more than four runs only six times.
Walton may be going up against a Roswell team its already familiar with, but coach Shane Amos said the Hornets (20-11) are fundamentally sound defensively, and are really good at playing small ball.
And, he said, Roswell’s pitching should not be overlooked.
“(Roswell) has great pitching,” Walton pitcher and center fielder Stephen Wrenn said, “and one big thing for us is to take advantage of every opportunity to scratch off any run that we can.”
Indeed, the series for both Pope and Walton may come down to how well they swing the bat and hit in the clutch.
Pope’s bats are capable of making noise against Starr’s Mill. Stephen Skruck, Nathaniel Lowe and Mason Shiflett are hitting well over .400 and are coming off a productive offensive showing against Winder-Barrow.
Wes Smith was 2-for-3 with three RBIs in Pope’s final game over Winder-Barrow.
Aaron Rzucidlo (.384) and Henry Rowling (.366) have been reliable for Walton in the middle of the lineup. Rzucidlo combined for two home runs and eight RBIs against Tift County. The Raiders also have Wrenn hitting .454 at the top of the lineup and has 28 stolen bases on the year.
“And if you can get off to a good start, you can relax and take better swings,” Amos said.