2A-6A Baseball State Championships Preview
By Score Atlanta
All eyes will be on a pair of two-time state champions as Region 5 foes Walton (30-4) and Pope (28-6) do battle in the Class AAAAAA finals. Pope edged Walton for the No. 1 seed coming out of the state’s toughest region with a 14-2 mark while the Raiders finished 13-3. The two squads split during the regular season with Pope winning at Walton 16-1 and the Raiders winning at the Dog Pound 10-5.
The Greyhounds rely on a strong pitching staff that is bolstered by Matt Rowland (Kennesaw State), Cameron Allison (Middle Tennessee State) and junior ace Ryan Webb (UGA). At the dish Pope is powered by hot prospect Joshua Lowe. Lowe, a 6-foot-3 third baseman set to attend Florida State, is ranked No. 15 in Baseball Factory’s Top 100 players. The lefty with power to all fields will be important for Walton to slow down.
The Raiders have their own star hitter with designs on being drafted this June in infielder Carter Kieboom. The shortstop/third baseman is pegged as the No. 4 ranked high schooler in the entire nation by Baseball Factory. Described as the “most advanced hitter in the high school class with a mix of barrel accuracy, quick hands, patience and confidence,” Kieboom forms one of the best infields in the nation alongside Parker McCoy (Georgia Tech). On the hill, Zac Kristofak (UGA), Chris Hummel and Aaron Toporek are among the staff’s most reliable pitchers.
Houston County (28-8) punched its ticket to the state championship by surviving Gainesville in Game 3, 2-0. The Bears aim for their second title in three years as they face South Effingham or Loganville. Tanner Hall hit an RBI double in the third and Dillon Strickland popped a homer to give Houston County the lead 2-0 before Hall, a lefty, escaped a bases loaded jam to preserve a complete-game one-hit shutout. In the finals, expect a heavy dose of aces Tony Locey (UGA) and DL Hall (Florida State). Locey transferred in from Hardaway and is ranked No. 58 in the top 100. Hall, a junior, is a devastating lefty.
In the semifinals between South Effingham and Loganville, University of Georgia-signee and righty Timothy Elliott of Loganville pitched his way to a 5-4 victory in Game 1. The Mustangs responded by finding success against Mississippi-State signee and lefty Mitchell Miller in Game 2 before holding on for a 5-1 victory. South Effingham’s Davis Hare allowed just four hits in the Game 2 win. On the plate, South Effingham’s Austin Thompson finished the double-header 5 for 9 with two RBI.
Buford (31-3) enters the Class AAAA state championship as the defending champs but Locust Grove (31-4-1) has established itself as a worthy title contender. The two programs met back on Feb. 29 at Buford where the Wildcats announced their presence to the rest of the state with a 3-0 shutout of the Wolves. Locust Grove is in search of more sweet redemption after Buford swept them out of the playoffs in the Elite Eight a year ago.
Class of 2019 standout Nolan Crisp is a Mississippi State-commit. The right-handed pitcher/third baseman can carry the Wildcats at times. Justin Nicholson, Ethan Lindow, Christian Young (Andrew College) and Odlanier Rodriguez make up an experienced and deep pitching staff for coach Stephen Phillips. Gavin Lee cranked the game-deciding 3-run homer against Buford earlier in the year. Rodriguez danced in and out of trouble going three innings in relief of starter Lindow, allowing three hits, three walks and striking out five. Crisp picked up the save.
Buford stranded 15 runners in the game. Brothers Austin and Nick Wilhite are both set to attend Georgia Tech. Brandon Marsh (Kennesaw State) provides power from right field while right-handed pitcher Griffin Jolliff (Georgia Tech) is the team’s veteran pitcher.
Two-sport star Will Benson leads Westminster (28-6) into the Class AAA finals where they have a chance to claim their first championship since 1975. Benson, the No. 6 ranked prospect out of high school, is a Bo Jackson-like outfielder that has committed to Duke. At 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, Benson has all five tools that MLB teams covet. His name will be called early in the MLB Draft. First baseman Armaan Painter (Missouri) joins Benson in a lineup that has scored a statewide-best 353 runs.
The Wildcats’ only kryptonite this season has been 33-2 Blessed Trinity, who took three games to get past a gritty Jackson County team. The Titans thumped Westminster in their two meetings this year 15-1 and 9-3. Hayden Lehman (10-0, 0.70 ERA), John Michael Bertrand (9-1, 0.78 ERA) and Peyton Glavine (6-0, 0.80 ERA) lead a devastating pitching staff that is in search of their third straight title. Jake Bogosian (.294, 38 RBI), Auburn-commit Conor Davis (.442, 5 HR, 34 RBI), Garrett Dupuis (.381, 30 RBI) and freshman CJ Abrams (.464, 29 RBI) power a deep offensive onslaught.
Alex Thompson hurled a complete-game shutout in Game 3 against Holy Innocents’ to lift defending state champs Wesleyan (28-9) back into the state title game. Thompson was masterful in the 4-0 win and will be asked to come up big yet again as the Wolves meet yet another Region 6 rival, Lovett (23-11-1) who ended Pace Academy’s season with a 4-0 Game 3 victory of their own. Back in mid-March, Wesleyan took two of three from Lovett winning 3-1 and 9-1 with a 3-1 loss sandwiched in between. The Lions have won seven titles with their last coming in 2013.
Cole Mannion finished 3-for-3 with 2 RBIs in Wesleyan’s series clinching win over Holy Innocents’. Ben O’Meara and Freddy Achecar (Georgetown) combined for a one-hitter in Lovett’s shutout of Pace. Aaron Schunk (UGA) provided the offense with a 2-run homer.
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