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Luella takes on powerhouse Lassiter in quarterfinals

By Derrick Mahone

dmahone@news-daily.com

As the Luella players began their warm-up drills Monday afternoon, coach Andy Cooper and his staff went over the Lions pitching rotation for their upcoming playoff series.

Cooper has a pleasant dilemma in trying to choose today's first-game pitcher when the Lions open a best-of-three Class AAAAA quarterfinals series at ninth-ranked Lassiter.

Junior Julius Gaines is penciled in as the Game 2 starter, but Cooper is debating whether to start Kendall Hill or Vincent Jackson, a pair of sophomore lefties. The pair has carried the Lions through the regular season and playoffs.

"I'm not totally sure who I'm going to start," Cooper said. "I'm going to sleep on it and probably make my decision (today). All year we have played it by ear on the starter. I think they are both capable of getting the job done."

Gaines, the team's starting shortstop, has been used in relief most of the season. However, he was the Game 3 winner against East Coweta last week. He pitched a complete game shutout by allowing only one hit in the Lions 2-0 win over second-ranked East Coweta. It is the first time that the school has advanced past the second round of the playoffs in school history.

Gaines has a team-leading 1.31 ERA with a 4-1 record and three saves.

"Julius was ready when we needed him," Cooper said. "He has thrown well also when asked to pitch."

Said Gaines: "Coach told me if I can throw my change up for strikes, we had a chance at winning. We feel good about ourselves, but we know we are the underdogs. We are just going up there to put it all on the line. We have confidence in our ability."

Jackson won the opening game 2-1 against East Coweta as it threw ace Cam Bedrosian, a potential first round draft choice and son of former Cy Young winner Steve Bedrosian. Hill took the defeat in the second game.

"Kendall left some balls up high," Cooper said. "Kendall and Vince are similar pitchers so I don't think we are going to start them back-to-back. I want to break it up some."

Lassiter is a traditional powerhouse program with state titles in 1999 and 2006. Its 1999 team was recognized as the high school national champion by several publications.

"We got a lot of respect for the Lassiter program, they have been there," Cooper said. "They have a lot of players from that East Cobb baseball organization. It is going to be a challenge, but I think our guys are looking forward to it. We just have to go up there and swing the bats."

In its previous eight games before the East Coweta series, the Lions had averaged 12 runs a game. In three games against the Indians, Luella only produced eight total runs.

"Our defense was flawless," Gaines said. "We got to get the bats back clicking. We just have to put the ball in play."