High School Baseball
Heritage School, Trinity look to keep seasons alive
by Doug Gorman
The Heritage School and Trinity Christian are the last hope for local high school baseball teams to bring home state titles.
Both squads, however, begin play as underdogs in respective best-of-three series today on the road in Macon as the first round of the GISA Class AAA tournament gets under way.
Trinity Christian defeated Heritage twice in the regular season, but finished as the fourth seed out of Region 1-AAA after going 1-5 in their final six games.
Heritage (4-4) needed to a win over Loganville in a suspended game on Tuesday in order to finish one game ahead of Trinity (3-5) in the region standings and they prevailed with a 9-8 victory.
The Hawks begin their quest for state title against Stratford Academy (11-1), which won the Region 2-AAAAAA title with a 3 p.m. doubleheader, while the Lions take on Tattnall Square (10-2), the No. 2 seed in Region 2-AAAAA in a doubleheader beginning at 4:30.
A potential third game in each series is scheduled for Saturday, if needed.
The 2014 season concluded for local GHSA teams after East Coweta, the last public school squad standing from Coweta County, was swept by Luella Wednesday in the second round.
It was the third time in three season, East Coweta exited the tournament with a second-round loss.
The Indians stayed alive in the tournament after beating Colquitt County in the first round last week.
Despite getting three home runs from Jaquez Williams, Devonte Brown and Stephan Cruver during the doubleheader with Luella and stringing together rallies in both games, the Indians 18-game winning streak ended, and so did their season with a 22-7 record.
Newnan and Northgate went home with first-round losses last week as the Cougars fell in three games to Valdosta and the Vikings dropped two straight to Houston County.
The Cougars ushered in a new era this season after former assistant Marc Gilmore was promoted to head coach when Kenny Morris stepped down.
Despite going through a period of adjustment, Newnan played its best baseball toward the end of the year winning six straight in the final week of the regular season prior to the Class AAAAAA playoffs.
Newnan ended Gilmore’s first campaign with just six seniors and a 15-13 record.
The Cougars split the doubleheader last Friday against Valdosta, dropping the first game 3-2 before winning the nightcap 7-2.
They then went down swinging in final game on Saturday, exchanging the lead several times against the Wildcats before falling in the bottom of the seventh inning when a bases-loaded rally ended.
“We fought hard,” said Gilmore after the loss. “That’s the thing I will remember about this team. We never quit.”
Northgate will remember its trip to Houston County as the one that got away after building a 5-0 lead in game one before allowing the Bears to score five times in the bottom of the sixth and send the game into extra inning.
The Bears finally clinched the victory in 11 innings and then defeated the Vikings 6-3 in game two to end Northgate’s season
All three teams have reason for optimism heading into next year especially with key personnel coming back.
East Coweta graduates five senior starters —Cam Smith, Bryce Gemmel, Austin Jones, Austin Bellamy and Matt Meyer as well as its No. 1 starting pitcher Austin Bellamy.
“I am so proud of the way these seniors stepped up,” East Coweta head coach Franklin DeLoach said. “ We had to execute some tough love, but our seniors rose to the occasion. They didn’t always put up the best numbers, but they played the game hard.”
Rising junior Thomas Leone grew up this past season and became the No. 2 starter, pitching a one-hitter in the team’s second victory over Colquitt County in the first series. Tyler Exley also earned valuable time on the mound this season. A key piece to the Indians’ rotation is also expected back next year when Dalton Chocallo returns from an elbow injury that kept him out of most of the season.
Chocallo warmed up during the series with Luella, but never entered the series.
The Indians picked up homers from underclassmen Stephon Cruver, Jaquez Williams and Devonte Brown against the Lions. All three played key roles during the season while emerging as starters.
Newnan entered the season with just a handful of experienced seniors, but the group came through. Outfielder Justin Groover batted .338 with a team-high three homers and Jake Kneidel added a .299 average while hampered with a hand injury that kept him out for two weeks near spring break. Catcher Connor Dunn batted .290 and pitcher Tanner Snellgrove finished 4-2 with a 2.19 ERA.
Sophomore leadoff hitter Brady Barnes, junior first baseman Caleb McElwaney and shortstop Chase Jones all emerged as key starters this spring. Barnes batted .306 with 9 RBIs while starting in right. McElwaney led starters with a .379 average and a team-high 15 RBIs and Jones batted .342 in 38 at bats while coming on strong late in the season.
On the mound, sophomore Sawyer Steele pitched at times like an ace, leading the Cougars with a 1.87 ERA to go with a 4-2 record. Sam Sowerbrower, Matt Thomley and Chris Turner are among the players expected back on the mound for Newnan next year.
Northgate, which finished its season at 16-12, heads into next year trying to replace a collection of talented seniors, including outfielders Armand Upshaw and James Poropatic. Upshaw had 21 RBIs and Poropatic drove in 19 runs.
The Vikings went 15-5 in a tough Region 4-AAAAA and entered the tournament as the No. 3 seed behind region champ Whitewater and Starr’s Mill.
Senior Blake Whitney appeared in 12 games on the mound, going 3-3 with a 3.29 ERA while striking out 48 batters.
Northgate should have plenty of options among returners heading into next spring.
Pitcher Chad Green brings back the most experience next season from the mound after also appearing in 12 games with a 1-2 record and two saves . Green had a 2.58 ERA and 20 strikeouts.
But Connor Wilson logged nearly 14 innings and Chase Allen pitched 17.
Wilson and Allen are also key position players. Wilson batted .299 with 11 RBIs, while Allen batted .338 with a team-high 27 RBIs. Jordan Schmidts will be back after batting .297 with 14 RBIs.
Despite Northgate’s early exit, Vikings head coach Greg Hamilton was impressed with most aspects of the team.
“We played really good defense this year,” he said.”That was pretty good, we averaged less than an error per game.”