GHSA Baseball Playoffs
No. 1 East Coweta looks to end year on top
by Chris Goltermann
The subtractions at East Coweta seemed to outweigh the additions at the start of the 2013 baseball season. Gone were the team’s top-two starting pitchers, as well as two potential starters that opted not to return to the program this spring.
Also absent were BBCOR bats — banned by the Georgia High School Association — that turned a power-hitting Indians lineup into fence swingers a year earlier.
Then again, even with all of those attributes a year earlier, the program had muddled through a disappointing 16-14 season in 2012 despite reaching the second round of the state playoffs.
Without them over the past three months, however, they’ve still managed to become the No. 1 ranked team in Class AAAAAA heading back into the postseason.
It starts with today’s 4 p.m., doubleheader at home to open a best of three first-round series with Rockdale County, the No. 4 seed out of Region 2-AAAAAA.
Remarkable as it sounds, East Coweta’s impressive turnaround isn’t quite as much magic as it is a maturity process. A large senior class provided the nucleus needed to create the chemistry for an eventual Region 3-AAAAAA champion and a 24-2 regular-season record.
It remains steadfast through the Indians’ recent rise to the top of the Georgia Dugout Club’s state rankings.
“I can tell you honestly that not a single coach or player has mentioned that one time,” said East Coweta head coach Franklin DeLoach. “There’s a common saying we tend to use a lot. It’s not how you start, but how you finish. Our guys have really stepped up and my hat’s off to the seniors. They’ve done well in the offseason, done well in the regular season. When it comes to February, March and April, they’ve done all we’ve asked them. But May’s a different story. Everybody’s zero and zero.”
Rockdale County finished with the third-best overall record in 2-AAAAAA but lost a tiebreaker to Newton for the No. 3 seed in the state playoffs. It’s as much an early test of the Indians’ fortitude, especially after an eight-day layoff.
“We know it’s going to be a battle,” said DeLoach. “We win two, we keep playing. If we lose two, then well ... we’re counting socks. We did several things this week with game simulation. But we’ll just have to see how we react. It’s important for us to set the tone.”
The changes have been numerous from a 2012 campaign that left what some called “a sour taste” following a second-round exit against Mill Creek, even though the majority of the names on the roster haven’t changed. Maybe the biggest alteration has been in attitude.
“These guys want to win,” said Indians assistant Brandon Blair, who has spent the last dozen years within the program following his playing days at East Coweta. “The other big change was the switch from the BBCOR. Our guys have been used to going up there looking for the fences. We had to change our whole philosophy when it came to hitting.”
The top of the Indian order has remained lethal starting with leadoff man Cameron Smith and continuing down the order with junior Bryce Gemmel, seniors Cole Amtmann, Jon Banks and Geremy Walton on to No. 6 hitter Matthew Meyer. The group batted .404 (19-for-47) with in the team’s two victories in its pivotal three-game region series with Newnan to gain home-field advantage through at least the first-two rounds of the state playoffs.
But there’s been consistency throughout the lineup as well. Along with Banks in the cleanup spot, senior second-baseman and No. 9 hitter Tim Manning was the only Indian to hit safely in all three games against Newnan in an effort that included a squeeze-bunt for a game-tying single in the series’ final game.
“It’s been the Tim Mannings’ and the Travis Williams’ and the Kyle Lorows’ that’s been doing this as well,” said DeLoach of three seniors who have all hit near the bottom of the order while starting at second, shortstop and catcher during most of the year.
One addition that sparked East Coweta’s pitching staff, despite the losses in the offseason, was the return of Mark Bowles as an assistant after previously coaching at Hiram. Senior sidearmer Zack McCurry quickly became the team’s ace after being used in spot situations last year while showing plenty of potential as a junior.
Junior Austin Bellamy, who is likely to pitch game two, has experienced his share of success as well including a 1-hit shutout against Douglas County during Region 3-AAAAAA play.
“Getting Coach Bowles back here, that was probably better for us than picking up a transfer student,” said DeLoach. “I may be the head coach as far as the title goes. But as far as our staff, we have three varsity coaches. Both of those coaches have done a heck of a job.”