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It's the luck of the draw in playoffs

There are a lot of factors that go into determining how far a high school baseball team can advance in the state playoffs.

But one thing the baseball playoffs, which get under way in all classifications with first-round matchups today, share with every other GHSA sport is the luck of the draw.

STATE BASEBALL

First-round matchups in the state high school baseball playoffs:

Today's games

Class AAAAA

4 p.m. - Alpharetta at Collins Hill (DH)

4 p.m. - Central Gwinnett at Harrison (DH)

4:30 p.m. - Kennesaw Mountain at Parkview (DH)

5 p.m. - Brookwood at Etowah (DH)

5 p.m. - North Cobb at Grayson (DH)

5 p.m. - North Gwinnett at Milton (DH)

5 p.m. - Pope at Mill Creek (DH)

Class AA

3 p.m. - Buford at Adairsville (DH)

Class A

1:30 p.m. - North Cobb Christian at Hebron Christian (DH)

2 p.m. - Providence Christian at Darlington (DH)

3 p.m. - Gordon Lee at Wesleyan (DH)

Of course, none of the 11 teams from Gwinnett County in the fields of three different classifications have the luxury of looking past their first-round opponents.

Still, a look at the brackets shows that the road to a state championship is more favorable for some teams than others.

"Every coach in this deal will tell you getting in the right bracket is important," said Heath Kennedy, coach of Region 8-A champion Hebron Christian (23-2), which opens up postseason play with a first-round series against North Cobb Christian today at Lion Field in Dacula. "But we know we've got to play well. Any day in baseball, the wheels can fall off."

Kennedy's Lions and Region 8-AAAAA champion Parkview (23-3) are the two local teams with perhaps the most favorable brackets in their respective classifications, though neither team expects to cruise to the title without a fight.

If Hebron gets past NCCS, it could have its hands full with either Providence Christian or Darlington in the second round, and other tough opponents like Region 5-A champion Walker, Region 8-A foe Lakeview Academy and Eagle's Landing Christian are other possible obstacles on its side of the bracket.

Meanwhile, Parkview faces a strong challenge from Kennesaw Mountain in the first round, and even a victory would mean a second-round matchup with either defending state runner-up South Forsyth or perennial Cobb County power Lassiter.

And other powerful clubs like East Coweta, Mill Creek and defending state champion Pope also lurk further down the road on Parkview's side of the bracket.

"It's a very tough bracket," Panthers coach Chan Brown said. "But to win the whole thing, you've got to go through tough teams anyway."

Still, with the way the brackets are set up by the GHSA this spring, Parkview and Hebron each have a big advantage no other county team shares.

Both are assured of having home field advantage as long as their postseason stays last.

By contrast, Region 7-AAAAA co-champion Collins Hill and Region 7-A champ Wesleyan are both guaranteed a home series in the first two rounds, but could be on the road the remainder of the playoffs if they keep running into fellow No. 1 seeds.

Both could face lengthy road trips to coastal Georgia locales in the quarterfinals — Collins Hill to Camden County and Wesleyan to Calvary Day in Savannah.

And in Wesleyan's case, it will be a challenge just to reach the quarterfinals. With Landmark Christian having lost a coin flip after tying Walker for the Region 5-A title, the Wolves (18-7) and War Eagles could meet in a rematch of last year's title series in the second round.

But both situations are just fine by Wesleyan coach Mike Shaheen.

"We knew if we could get to the second round, it would be tough whether it was Landmark or Walker," Shaheen said. "And last year, we didn't travel very far and felt like we missed out on a trip. We feel like we have a huge home field advantage, but on the other hand, we love going to those teams where (the stands) are packed, like Pierce County or North Oconee or Jeff Davis. Those public schools in small towns like that, the whole town shows up. That's always fun."