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Buckle up for playoffs

By Doug Gorman

I don't know if baseball is still the Great American Pastime.

In this era of specialization, many high school athletes choose to bypass baseball for other sports such as basketball where AAU ball allows them to compete 12 months a year.

One thing I do know about baseball in the Southern Crescent is an area where high school teams can really play the game.

Case in point: Henry County High School, Stockbridge, Union Grove and Luella, as well as Jonesboro are headed to their respective state tournaments.

All the above teams have written their own unique chapters in their quest for high school baseball supremacy.

Perhaps the most impressive baseball story occurred this season at Luella, Henry County's newest program.

Although there's not a senior on the team, the Lions are headed to the Class AAA tourney.

That really should be no surprise. Head coach Andy Cooper learned the game from Stockbridge coach Bill Pate while an assistant coach with the Tigers. Cooper also played for Pate at Lowndes High School.

Pate has Stockbridge back in the state playoffs for the first time since 2001. Pate has a knack of building quality baseball programs. Two of the best players he has ever coached are Braves outfielder J.D. Drew, and pitcher Kyle Davies, who also plays in the Braves' farm system.

Pate coached Drew at Lowndes County High, while Davies was a hard-throwing pitcher for the Tigers, who is now working his way up the Braves' farm system.

This year, Stockbridge earned a bid to the state tournament as the No.-3 seed out of Region 2-AAAAA with a dramatic win over rival Eagle's Landing in the last game of the regular season.

The Henry County Warhawks enter the tournament with few secrets. Hard-throwing pitchers Michael Rozier and Jason Laird have helped head coach Chuck Campbell's team to a school record for wins.

Rozier and Laird could each hear their names called next month when the annual amateur baseball draft is held.

Should Henry County keep winning, it will have the luxury of playing at home for the first three rounds of the playoffs.

Union Grove is the other local team playing at home.

The Wolverines have enjoyed quick success under the direction of head coach Vic Gongola. In just four seasons, the Wolverines are headed to the state playoffs for the second time in as many years.

The Wolverines beat rival Blessed Trinity for the first time ever and finished second in the region. Zach Blakeney is smacking the ball around to the tune of a .600 batting average.

At Jonesboro, the Cardinals are back in the playoffs for the second year in a row. It's been a little bit of a roller coaster ride for the Cardinals this season as they fell from second in the region to fourth after a heartbreaking loss to Warner Robins late in the season.

Still, the Cardinals can't be counted out of the state title picture.

Head coach Don Corr's club is loaded with enough talent to make a serious run. He has a good pitching, speed on the base paths, power in his lineup and quality fielding.

The Cardinals started the season with a 13-1 record and spent most of the year ranked in the Top-10 coaches' poll.

I'm not too sure what is going to happen starting tonight when local teams throw out the first pitch, but one thing is for sure, it is going to be exciting and fans may want to buckle up their seatbelts.

Doug Gorman is sports editor of the Daily. His column appears on Fridays. E-mail at dgorman@news-daily.com