New crew taking Houston County baseball to title series

Despite taking home the GHSA Class AAAAA baseball championship just two short years ago, only a pair of Houston County’s seven seniors were around in uniform to take part.

Region 2-AAAAA pitcher of the year Tanner Hall joined the team late in the year after being promoted from the junior varsity, while leadoff hitter and table setter Blake Dawson contributed mostly as a pinch-runner.

Head coach Jason Brett has essentially flipped over an entire roster in the time that has passed since, and yet here the Bears are once again just two wins away from another state crown.

“It’s a new lineup, but that’s a testament to baseball in this area,” Brett said. “Our Little League and our travel ball teams are turning out some good baseball players.”

There have been trying moments in between the periods of great success.

Houston County struggled to find a rhythm in 2015, finishing 13-11 and ultimately missing the Class AAAAA playoffs altogether, but the Bears have rebounded in a big way.

“It was tough last year,” Hall said. “Everybody was down about it. This year, I think with what we had coming back, that we just rebuilt. Some of the new guys came in, and it was just a different mentality. I don’t think that we thought much about last year. We had our team meeting at the beginning of the year, and we put the previous season behind us.”

Said Brett, “They’ve been through some storms and dealt with adversity. They’re good young men because they’ve been able to handle that stuff. It’s just a good group.”

Although several in Houston County’s senior class are not everyday players, the Bears wouldn’t be to this point without their leadership.

Senior infielder’s Tucker Garland and Dillon Strickland began the year as starters, only to see their playing time diminish during the middle of the season. But they’ve been called upon in a big way during this playoff run. Garland regained his job at shortstop during the Cambridge series and has been a defensive stalwart for the Bears, while Strickland reclaimed his gig at second base and has come away with some big hits, including a home run in the decisive third game at Gainesville.

Senior Ryan Milton has delivered in several key pinch hit at-bats, and Tyler Flewellyn has often been the first reliever called upon to keep opponents off of the board late in games when Houston County’s vaunted starting pitching staff needs a rest.

“As a senior especially, it would be easy to get frustrated when you’re not getting as much playing time as you might want,” Brett said. “It would be easy to become a selfish player. Those kids didn’t. They accepted their role, they embraced it and they moved on to do the best they can with it. That’s a credit to them.”

If the Bears play with a bit of a chip on their shoulder, it’s easy to understand why. This senior class has heard the criticism, faced a considerable amount of adversity and put in the work to overcome it.

Hosting Loganville with a championship ring on the line is just the reward for their labor. The series starts Monday.

“Last year left a little bit of a bad taste in their mouth,” Brett said. “They didn’t like not being in the playoffs. There was a little bit of a fire and a little bit of a hunger to prove some people wrong who might say (the 2014 championship) was a fluke. They wanted to show that Houston County baseball was for real and that we put a good product on the field every year.”

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