By Jeffery Armstrong
The 2005 baseball season was unlike any other season in recent history.
No longer was it the Jonesboro Cardinals and the rest of the Clayton County teams - there were a few other teams willing to try and steal the spotlight from Jonesboro.
The county team to get the majority of the light from the Cardinals was the Forest Park Panthers, who qualified for the state playoffs for the first time in 20 years by winning the Region 5-AAAA crown. Included in their drive to the region title was a big 4-3 win over Jonesboro in extra innings on April 20, which basically gave the tie-breaker advantage to the Panthers.
Forest Park rode the momentum of that big win over Jonesboro, winning six of their last seven regular seasongames to clinch home field for a state playoff game for the first time since the team won the state championship in 1985. Despite getting shellacked 17-1 and 13-4 by the East Paulding Raiders last Friday, Forest Park head coach Michael Breedlove said his team, which finished 17-8, has nothing to be ashamed of this year.
"I'm very proud of this team; we're trying to take this program to the next level," Breedlove said Friday after his team's doubleheader.
"Winning in state is a process. Our goal was to get to state and next year, I'm hoping the younger guys on this team can help us advance farther."
Jonesboro didn't fall too far off the spectrum this season, finishing with a 20-8 record for head coach Don Corr (in his last season) and clinching its third straight trip to the state playoffs. Jonesboro was able to finish second in Region 5-AAAA and hosted the Ringgold Tigers, who defeated the Cardinals in three games.
Jonesboro, despite losing a great deal of seniors, should still be in the thick of things in the region under new coach Radu Patel next season.
The Riverdale Raiders qualified for the state AAAAA playoffs this year for the first time since 1988 by streaking down the stretch, getting big wins over Redan, Morrow and Lithonia and clinching the fourth seed from Region 2-AAAAA. Their reward for all that hard work? A first-round date in hostile territory against the Starr's Mill Panthers, a team that made it to the state AAAAA quarterfinals last year. Starr's Mill proved to be rude hosts to the Raiders, walloping Riverdale 10-0 and 12-0 to make the Raiders' first trip to state a short one.
The Raiders bumped region rival Morrow from the fourth seed with their wins down the stretch.
"It's always good to be in contention," Morrow head coach Chris Jeffreys said. "This is a good step to building a good program."
The Mustangs of Morrow were sitting pretty atop Region 2-AAAAA with a 7-1 region mark with two weeks left in the regular season, but they proceeded to lose six straight games and allow Riverdale to slide right in to the state playoffs.
Morrow did get some big victories in the early region schedule, however.
Lovejoy, North Clayton and Mt. Zion started well but faded quickly out of playoff contention. The Mundy's Mill Tigers, under new head coach Patrick Smith, didn't win many games this season, but the third-year team was competitive and they recorded their first Region 4-AAAAA victory in school history over playoff-bound Union Grove.