By James Butler
With roughly three weeks remaining in the GHSA baseball regular season, the Southern Crescent is looking to put 10-plus teams into the state playoffs.
Teams like Class 5A’s Ola and Starr’s Mill are expected to make the state field, along with a possible deep run, while some other area clubs like Jonesboro and North Clayton are looking to push their way into their respective state fields during these final weeks.
Here is a look at the top Southern Crescent playoff contenders, starting with the Class 5A hopefuls.
Starr’s Mill and McIntosh, along with Ola, Union Grove, and Dutchtown are two groupings of Southern Crescent teams looking to position themselves into a state playoff spot in Region 4-AAAAA. Starr’s Mill (17-3, 7-2) and McIntosh (12-7, 6-2) faced each other Monday night in the first game of a home-and-home series that ends tonight, and it was the Chiefs going on the road to take game one 3-2. These two matches will likely decide which team ends the regular season higher in the standings.
Over in Henry County, Ola (18-3, 8-0) has been dominant in the region thus far, pummeling opponents with its offense. However, the Mustangs close their regular season with a two-game home-and-home with rival Union Grove (14-5, 7-1).
With a pair of wins the defending Class 5A quarterfinalist Wolverines can end the regular season in a better position than Ola. Dutchtown (12-9, 5-3), which split with Union Grove this season, could also factor into the picture down the stretch. It’s the youngsters getting it done for the Bulldogs. Players like junior DeJuan VanDyke who’s batting .433 and leading the team with 20 RBIs. VanDyke’s also been effective on the mound, going 5-1 on the season while recording a 1.86 ERA.
Head coach Stephen Phillips’ Locust Grove bunch (20-1, 13-0) leads its Region 4 sub-region and looks ready to clinch a state appearance with the sub-region win. Arguably the area’s hottest team, the Wildcast have ripped off 15 straight Ws after an early season setback to LaGrange, and are being paced by — among others — a freshman phenom pitcher in Nolan Crisp.
Winning the sub-region could pit the Wildcats up against either Spalding or Griffin, who are prominent among the teams in a battle for the opposite sub-region crown. The winner of the two sub-regions will play a best two-out-of-three series to determine the region’s No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, while the respective second-place finishers in each sub-region will play the third-place finisher from the opposite sub-region to determine the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds.
Currently behind Spalding (16-5, 10-1) and Griffin (15-5, 9-4), Jonesboro (7-11, 5-8) is also looking to get a top-three finish. The Cardinals will likely have to surpass Pike County to get land a spot in the top-three. Meanwhile, Spalding and Griffin started a much anticipated home-and-home on Monday with the Jaguars winning their 12th straight game, taking a 2-0 decision from their in-county rival. The two will face off again Wednesday during Griffin’s senior night.
In Region 5-AAAA, back-to-back Class AAAA runners up Whitewater (10-9, 6-3) is currently safely among the top four seeds in the six-team region. With no region tournament, Whitewater will play for seeding in the final weeks of the regular season. The Wildcats’ have a pair of three-game series remaining with Woodward Academy and Troup County, two of the top-four teams in Region 5, so a top-two seed and at least one home state playoff series is in their sights.
Considering powerhouses Blessed Trinity and Westminster as well as a tough Decatur team control a lot of real estate in Region 4, North Clayton’s remaining schedule is a tough one. To this point in the season the Eagles have been the fourth best team in the region, edging Cedar Grove, Jackson, and South Atlanta, so there is hope for them to make the state field.
CLASS A PRIVATE
ELCA (11-7, 6-1) is in a battle with Region 5 mates Paideia and Mount Vernon to finish top two in the region. The top two teams will play a three-game series with only the winner automatically advancing to the state playoffs, while the loser will have to get in based on the Class A Private School Power Ratings.
The Chargers’ remaining schedule definitely provides the opportunity for them to play themselves into the state field. In addition to playing Paideia on Monday, Stewart Bailey’s club also plays Class 6A East Coweta, Class 3A Jackson, and the second-rated Class A Private School team Tattnall Square Academy. All of those non-region games could help the Chargers increase their power rating, regardless of their region finish.