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LUELLA PLAYING MIND GAMES

Coming off consecutive losses for the first time in two seasons, Luella baseball looks to get back on track

Luella graduate Vincent Jackson was selected Wednesday by the New York Yankees in the 23rd round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Luella graduate Vincent Jackson was selected Wednesday by the New York Yankees in the 23rd round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

This hasn’t happened in quite some time. Forty-five regular season games, to be exact, spanning three seasons. Add on top of that another week — the past seven days, which Luella baseball has spent soaking in its first back-to-back losses in just over two years.

No. 3-ranked Luella lost 2-1 to Pike County on March 28, then dropped a 6-5, eight-inning affair to region rival East Coweta on March 30. Luella hadn’t lost consecutive regular season games since April 14-15, 2010.

The Lions are feeling the weight of expectations built upon unprecedented success the past three seasons, enough that coach Andy Cooper feels a double-header Saturday against Etowah and Alexander leading into the final stretch of the season will be a critical barometer for the team’s potential in the state tournament.

“It’s kind of a make-or-break week for us coming up and coming back after spring break,” Cooper said. “If we’re going to be successful and go down the right road, we need to go ahead and make a change this week.”

Luella made those changes in 2010. After losing to Lovett and Greenbrier in consecutive games, the Lions finished the regular season on a five-game winning streak. They took that momentum into the state tournament, advancing to the Class AAAAA quarterfinals for the best finish in school history.

Luella is hoping for a similar after-effect this season.

“We know things happen, and baseball is a game of failure,” Lions senior outfielder and pitcher Vincent Jackson said. “We need to keep on going. It was a tough loss, but it’s still the middle of the season. We can’t dwell on it.”

There’s much to forget about Luella’s current two-game slide. Against Pike County, the Lions were unable to come up with timely hits and wasted a strong pitching performance by Kendal Hill. They let a 5-1 seventh-inning lead against East Coweta slip away thanks to several fielding miscues, including a dropped ball in extra innings with the bases loaded that allowed the winning run to score.

That left the bad piled up as Luella went into spring break and some questions surrounding how the Lions will respond to their first losing streak in three years.

“I don’t think our confidence is shaken,” senior third baseman Chase Scott said, “but I think we need to come out against Etowah and Alexander and prove to people that we can still play ball.”

The Lions have endured a challenging schedule, hoping it will prepare them for a deep run in the state tournament, and they’ve faired well — they’re 5-3 against non-region opponents, losing to undefeated Crisp County, Region 4-AA leader Pike County and North Gwinnett, the No. 9-ranked team in Class AAAAA.

The challenges continue with Etowah, who is ranked one spot ahead of Luella in Class AAAAA, and Alexander, who has won 10 of its last 11 games.

But no matter the outcome, Luella still controls its own destiny in Region 2-AAAAA. After the two losses, the Lions are 13-4 overall and 8-1 in the region with a one-game lead over East Coweta and Newnan.

After a week without practice, Luella hopes it’s rested and focused.

“I basically told them to get their minds right and be ready to come together as a team and make a run at it,” Cooper said. “Hopefully, they’ll come back relaxed with fresh legs and ready to go to work.”