Photo by David McGregor
Luella's Matt Kelley pitches during game one of the Lions season ending loss to Parkview on Tuesday in Lilburn.
By Brandon Brigman
Special to the Daily
LILBURN -- In the early 2000s, Parkview was in the middle of its dominant run in Class AAAAA baseball. The Panthers won two state titles and regularly made deep playoffs runs.
It's been eight years since Parkview last won a state title, but this year's team could end that drought.
"I think we have a good chance of doing it," Parkview's Jack Esmonde said. "It's a chance to put Parkview on the map again."
Parkview swept Luella in two games in the quarterfinals of the Class AAAAA playoffs at Hugh Buchannan Field on Tuesday.
The Panthers relied on the arm of Matt Olson for a 3-1 victory in Game 1 and then used a seventh inning rally for a 5-2 win in Game 2.
The win puts the Panthers in the state semifinals for the first time since 2005 when this year's senior class was just sixth-graders.
"It feels great to be going back," Esmonde said. "I remember going to those games when I was growing up. I always wanted to do something for the team to get them there."
Parkview was put out of the playoffs last year by state runner-up Lassiter. The Panthers entered this season ranked No. 1 in the state and have lived up to the hype with a 25-8 record and the Region 8-AAAAA championship.
The chance to play for another state championship will come on Monday when the Panthers travel to play the winner of the Alpharetta-Colquitt County series in the semifinals.
"We're excited just to be there," Parkview coach Chan Brown said. "They both have some great pitchers they can throw at you."
Parkview needed a seventh inning rally in Game 2 to sweep the series.
With two on, Edwin Arias hit a dribbler to the pitcher. Vincent Jackson picked up the ball and went to third, but the throw went over the base. Rob Youngblood got up and scored to give Parkview a 3-2 lead.
"That was very uncharacteristic of Vinny," Luella coach Andy Cooper said. "That kind of killed our momentum a little bit."
Luella walked Parkview standout Matt Olson, who was hitless in the series, to load the bases. Jeff Ronpirin followed with a groundout to first to score Travis Naraine and Arias scored two batters later when Esmonde was hit by a pitch.
"I think we kind of imploded a little bit," Cooper said. "The walks, the hit batters, that didn't help us."
Phillip Taylor pitched the seventh inning to get the win. Jesse Foster started the game and went 5 1/3 strong innings. He allowed seven hits, two runs and struck out four. He threw only two bad pitches, both solo home runs by Luella.
"He kept us in the ball game," Brown said. "He gave up two home runs, but he still hung in there."
Luella's Julius Gaines led off Game 2 with a solo home run. Parkview tied the game in the fourth off Esmonde's double to drive in Olson. The score wasn't tied long as Jackson began the bottom of the fourth inning with a solo homer to give Luella a 2-1 lead.
Esmonde tied the game again in the sixth with another double to bring home Ronpirin.
"You won't find a hotter hitter in the playoffs than him," Brown said. "He's come up big in all three rounds."
In Game 1, Parkview relied on the strong arm of Olson. The junior standout had eight strikeouts and a shutout going into the seventh inning. Luella scored its only run on an unearned run after a throwing error to first base. Olson then got D.J. Carlise, who was 2-for-4, to ground out to first base to end the game.
"(Olson) has been up and down a little bit this year," Brown said. "He was due for a big start and he got it."
Arias, Youngblood and Naraine each had two hits for the Panthers.
Josh Hart scored in the first inning on a double by Arias. Esmonde reached on an error in the third to bring home Arias to make 2-0.
Ryan Blanton led off the fifth with a double and scored on Youngblood's double to push the Panthers ahead 3-0.