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ELCA baseball restores order against Landmark

Photo by Brian Paglia / Jacob Heyward led Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy to a first round sweep of rival Landmark Christian with two home runs and nine RBIs in the Chargers’ doubleheader Friday.

Photo by Brian Paglia / Jacob Heyward led Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy to a first round sweep of rival Landmark Christian with two home runs and nine RBIs in the Chargers’ doubleheader Friday.

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Photo by Brian Paglia / Joshua Smith missed the playoffs with ELCA last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Smith pitched four strong innings to help the Chargers win Game 2.

McDONOUGH — The Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy baseball team faced one of the most common and cliched temptations in sports. The Chargers entered their Class A private school first round playoff series ranked No. 1 and with a roster nearly identical to the one that reached the quarterfinals last season. Their goal is a few rounds further in the bracket.

But ELCA’s first round opponent — Landmark Christian — got its attention.

“It’s a rival game,” ELCA coach Doug Campbell said. “You’re getting up for your rival.”

The Chargers brushed their Region 5-A rivals aside with 12-2 and 9-2 victories to advance to the quarterfinals for the second straight season. ELCA (24-2) will host the winner of Holy Innocents’-Mt. Pisgah, who split their doubleheader, on Wednesday.

The occasion of ELCA and Landmark meeting for the third time this season offered the Chargers an opportunity. Both games ended with ELCA wins, but they were one-run games, including one decided in extra innings. Campbell thought the outcomes didn’t match the true disparity in the teams.

“Honestly, I felt like during the year we were five or six runs better than them,” Campbell said. “But we hadn’t proven it.”

So ELCA wasted no time Friday. They opened Game 1 taking a 3-0 lead in the first inning and never looked back. Dazmon Cameron went 3-for-4 with two doubles, a home run and two RBIs. Cameron Ragsdale hit a 3-run home run. D.J. Curl went 2-for-3 and scored three times. Dalton Etheridge allowed one hit and two earned runs in 4 1/3 innings while striking out seven.

But the best sign for ELCA’s postseason potential was Jacob Heyward’s big night. The senior rightfielder entered the playoffs feeling mixed about his regular season. The early part was spent adjusting to opposing pitchers who refused to give him fastballs. Only recently had he begun to feel comfortable with a new patient approach.

Heyward exploded in Game 1, going 3-for-4 with two home runs and six RBIs.

“He had struggled a bit this season, or at least struggled by his standards,” Campbell said. “He was just on fire [Friday].”

Heyward had three more RBIs in Game 2, including two in the game’s decisive third inning when ELCA broke open a scoreless game with seven runs. Jordan Howard hit a two-run home run. Ragsdale and Andrew Gomez had RBIs. That gave pitchers Joshua Smith and Cole Ganopolis, who allowed just one earned run apiece, all the cushion they needed. Patrick Busscher went 3-for-4 with an RBI.

It was exactly the evening Campbell was looking for.

“We hit so well,” Campbell said.

When the Chargers entered the Georgia High School Association in 2004, the rivalry with Landmark Christian quickly developed. The War Eagles dominated early on, but ELCA quickly made it competitive and more recently have turned the tables. Friday’s wins made the Chargers 4-0 against Landmark this season. They were 2-1 against the War Eagles last season and edged them for the region championship.

When playoff teams were seeded in a new format since the GHSA split Class A into separate public and private school playoffs, ELCA was No. 3. The Chargers appealed, won and moved up to No. 1.

And so ELCA got the chance to play its rival again and restore order to the series.

“It’s a big rival,” Campbell said. “These guys are hungry. They want a state championship.”