After the final days of the regular season provided plenty of drama, 11 area high school baseball teams are getting ready for Friday's state playoff openers.
Many of Gwinnett County's contingent are familiar faces. Including Wesleyan (18-7), which has won state championships in Class AA and A over the last two seasons, and Brookwood (13-12), a fixture deep into the Class AAAAA playoffs the last two seasons, including winning the 2008 title.
For others like Hebron Christian (23-2), this year's postseason will be a new experience. The Lions made their playoff debut a year ago, but didn't last very long as the first step in Wesleyan's path to the Class A title.
However, head coach Heath Kennedy's squad will have a different point of view -- that of a region champion -- when it opens up Friday with a best-of-three first-round series at home against North Cobb Christian.
After winning their first 8-A crown, Kennedy knows his Lions need to walk that fine line between coming in with somewhat of a swagger and being overconfident. He believes watching Wesleyan do so last year will help.
"We're definitely not cocky, but we have confidence," Kennedy said. "Our kids have gotten to see what state championship teams need to do. They got a pretty good look at it (last year). ... But we know we've still got to play well."
This year's Gwinnett postseason contingent also features a return of sorts for some teams.
Central Gwinnett (13-13) will be making its first playoff appearance since 2002 when the Black Knights travel to Kennesaw to take on Region 5-AAAAA champion Harrison.
Buford's playoff drought is not quite that long, but the Wolves' (18-7) first postseason berth in four years -- which they will make in the first round of the Class AA playoffs at Adairsville -- is an accomplishment coach Tony Wolfe has wanted for his team for some time.
"This senior class has never played playoff baseball (in high school)," Wolfe said. "These guys have played so hard. So, I'm happy for them."
And there are other Gwinnett playoff teams in a third category -- teams that have made a habit of playing postseason ball most years, but haven't done so as a region champion in a while.
While 2006 was the last time Buford made the playoffs, it was also the time both Collins Hill and Parkview came in as region champions.
The Eagles (20-6) shared the Region 7-AAAAA crown with Mill Creek (21-5) and got the No. 1 seed on a tie-breaker, and host Alpharetta on Friday. The Region 8-AAAAA champion Panthers (23-3) welcome Kennesaw Mountain to Hugh Buchanan Stadium for Friday's first round.
Parkview coach Chan Brown said coming in as a region champion helps add to his team's confidence.
"It makes a big difference mindset-wise," Brown said. "It's been a goal of ours, especially our seniors, to win the region title this year. But our take on it is to take one game at a time and hope things work out for the Panthers."