Northgate faces upstart Hardaway in opener
by Chris Goltermann
The path to the Class AAAAA Sweet 16 for Northgate’s baseball program is identical to last year’s on paper. In order to advance, the Vikings will again have to again upset a region champion on the road.
On the field, however, head coach Greg Hamilton knows his team will have to eliminate some of the mistakes that have plagued them during the Region 4-AAAAA schedule.
“One of the concerns lately for us has been ‘free bases,’” said Hamilton. “We’ve given up something like 3.1 unearned runs a game. Walking people, making errors. In high school baseball its very rare for a team to compile 14 or 15 hits and 10 runs without you giving them something. Lately it’s been too much free stuff for us.”
They were as much a difference between hosting a first-round series this week and being forced to face No. 9 state-ranked Hardaway. The best of three format begins today with a 2 p.m., doubleheader in Columbus between the 18-7 Vikings and 22-4 Hawks.
Last season, Northgate advanced to the Class AAAA Sweet 16 with a sweep of Region 4 champion Lovejoy before losing in the second round at Pope.
The Vikings’ longest losing streak this year has been two games and the team has gone 7-1 since dropping back-to-back region games against Starr’s Mill and Whitewater in late March.
Hardaway, meanwhile, hasn’t lost consecutive games all season.
“We’ve got to go out and play hard,” Hamilton said. “If we play hard, I’ll be happy no matter what happens. But in a lot of games, we’ve played three-quarters of a game and that’s been the frustrating part.”
Game 3, if necessary, will be played Friday at 4:30 p.m., also in Columbus.
To its credit, Northgate rolled through the final four games of the 4-AAAAA schedule in must-win situations in order to finish fourth in a competitive region. They battled against the region’s top teams — rallying from behind twice against McIntosh and splitting regular-season series with Whitewater and Starr’s Mill.
Too many of the latter, however, ended in frustration. Both times against McIntosh, the Vikings came back from deficits to either tie the game or take the lead in late innings, only to fall short.
“We had 11 hits and five runs against McIntosh, but we gave them runs,” Hamilton said of a 6-5 loss in 10 innings on April 15 in Peachtree City, a game where Northgate made five errors and left 10 runners on base.
For the season, the Vikigns have made 56 errors in 24 games.
Northgate can’t be just competitive today against the Hawks, who finished first in a division that included Northside-Columbus (17-9). Northside played all three county lineups, going 1-3 though managing to hand No. 1-ranked East Coweta its only loss so far this season.
Two of Hardaway’s four losses came against Northside, which lost at Northgate 6-0 in the opening week of the 2013 season.
While watching three of Hardaway’s games this season, Hamilton saw Hardaway strike out just three times.
“And two of the three weren’t regular starters for them,” he added.
“They play in a tough region over there. They’re just a very good, sound team,” said Hamilton.
It includes pitching depth from a lineup that went 9-16 last year and qualified for the postseason for the first time in three seasons after graduating just five seasons. The region title was the program’s first since 2005.
Lefties C.J. Brown, a junior, and sophomore Travon Dorsey will take the mound for the Hawks, who will be facing Northgate seniors Matt Farmakis and Robert Massenburg in Games 1 and 2, in order.
Both Vikings finished the regular season with 4-3 records, with Farmakis’ 1.53 ERA a bit lower than Massenburg’s solid mark of 1.97. Massenburg, though, leads Viking pitchers in most major categories including innings pitched (42 2/3), strikeouts (54) and walks (29).
Farmakis has shown the better control, however, with seven strikeouts for every walk allowed this year.
Vikings Blake Whitney and Jonathan Fleckenstein, both of whom have given the team solid outings, could be used either in relief or a deciding third game on Friday if needed. Both enter with 4-0 records this season.
Whitney has a 3.20 ERA over 25 1/3 innings and Fleckenstein has cruised to a 0.28 ERA while getting plenty of support in region routs this year.
At the plate, seniors Tyler Dahlberg and Jeffrey Ginn have led the team with averages well over .400. Dahlberg, who has played both second base and shortstop this year, leads with five homers and 32 RBIs while entering today with a .442 batting average.
Ginn became a regular in the order by mid-March as Northgate’s designated hitter while also playing the outfield in spots. It was tough to keep him out of the lineup considering his team-leading .469 average. Ginn’s eight doubles rank third behind Dahlberg and leader James Poropatic.
The Viking centerfielder is batting .402 with three homers and 21 RBIs, despite hitting in the leadoff spot. He also has a team-high 14 stolen bases without being thrown out.
Outfielder Armand Upshaw has 17 RBIs while hitting behind Poropatic while 7-for-7 on attempted steals. Northgate has stolen 57 bases in its 24 games so far while batting .321 as a team.
The Vikings have also carried on despite losing cleanup hitter and starting catcher Spencer Perry, who is unlikely to return in the state playoffs and won’t play this week. An All-County selection in 2012 who signed with Berry College, Perry had a home run and six RBIs before being injured.
Jonathan Hamilton has handled the catching duties since. The duo has thrown out a combined 10 runners this year.