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10 teams take aim at trophy

Now, the real season begins for 10 high school baseball teams throughout Gwinnett County.

Friday's opening day of the state baseball playoffs marks the beginning of a month-long journey that each local team hopes will end with a state championship.

Every team has an equal shot at bringing home a trophy, though expectations differ throughout each classification's brackets - and that also goes for Gwinnett's contingent.

The bar is raised perhaps highest in Class AAAAA, where Brookwood (24-1) enters its best-of-three first-round series against Alpharetta - which gets under way with a 4 p.m. doubleheader Friday at the Dave Hunter Complex - as one of the favorites.

The Broncos are not only ranked No. 1 in Georgia, but also appear in three separate national rankings - No. 3 in the USA Today Super 25, No. 4 in the Baseball Coaches Association/Baseball America poll and No. 11 in the Easton Sports/Collegiate Baseball rankings.

All that matters to Brookwood now, however, is winning at least two of its next three games and advancing.

"(The national rankings are) a true honor for our program, but we've also got to keep it in perspective," Broncos coach Rick Howard said. "We don't play nationally, except for the LaGrange tournament we played (in March). This isn't like the BCS. If we don't win state, all that other stuff goes away."

Despite the high expectations, Howard added that his team isn't under any more pressure than any of the other 159 teams playing for the five respective classifications' state titles.

"It's not any more (pressure) than you already put on yourself," Howard said.

Dealing with each round will be difficult enough, though for some perhaps more so than others.

For instance, No. 8 Parkview and ninth-ranked Mill Creek may have two of the toughest first-round draws in any classification.

The Panthers (20-6) will have to get by defending Class AAAAA state champion Walton beginning at 4 p.m. Friday at Hugh Buchanan Field while the Hawks (18-8) square off with last year's state runner-up No. 7 Kennesaw Mountain. That series also begins at 4 p.m. Friday at Mill Creek.

The winner of those two series must not only face each other in the second round, but will also likely have to go through No. 6 Camden County (20-5, Region 3-AAAAA champions and a state semifinalist last year), just to get out of that portion of the bracket.

However, that comes with the territory, according to Parkview coach Chan Brown.

"It's part of the process," Brown said. "It is what it is. The last time we went to the state semis (2005), we wound up having to play the defending state champs from the year before (Milton) in the first round. So, you just have to go out and play."

Other concerns for local teams as the postseason opens up is staying healthy - always a concern, but especially crucial in the postseason.

For example, Wesleyan is hoping to give ace left-hander Grayson Garvin another few days to rest his sore forearm. However, with Ben Tucker recovered from his soreness and Brooks Colquitt ready to bolster the bullpen after missing the entire regular season, Wolves coach Mike Shaheen is pretty optimistic about his team's chances.

"We're happy guys are starting to get healthy," said Shaheen, whose No. 3 Wolves open up the Class AA playoffs with a first-round doubleheader against Washington-Wilkes at 4 p.m. at Donn Gaebelein Field. "But in playoff baseball, you never know."

SideBar: FIRST ROUND

State baseball playoffs

Friday's games (all doubleheaders)

Class AAAAA

4 p.m. - Alpharetta at Brookwood

4 p.m. - Kennesaw Mountain at Mill Creek

4 p.m. - Walton at Parkview

5 p.m. - Grayson at Lassiter

5 p.m. - Woodstock at Norcross

5 p.m. - North Gwinnett at North Cobb

5 p.m. - South Gwinnett at Kell

Class AA

4 p.m. - Washington-Wilkes at Wesleyan

4:30 p.m. - GAC at North Oconee

Class A

2 p.m. - Monticello at Providence