Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. Wesleyan's Strother White is 10-1 for the Wolves with a 3.44 ERA. Wesleyan is among four Gwinnett teams remaining in the state playoffs.
Booming bats were the biggest factor for Gwinnett's survivors during the opening round of the state baseball playoffs.
However, pitching was perhaps the key for the four remaining area teams after the second round, and all of those teams are hoping for similar mound results as they take to the field for the quarterfinals in their respective classifications today.
Perhaps the two surviving teams that got the most clutch pitching performances were Mill Creek (25-5) and Wesleyan (22-8).
The Hawks got complete-game victories from Eric Alonzo (5-1, 2.97 ERA) and Matthew Grimes (9-1, 1.33 ERA) in subduing Etowah in two well-pitched games by both teams.
They also have some depth with No. 3 starter Brian Stillwell (3-2, 3.97 ERA) and relievers like Taylor Alexander (2-0, 1.50 ERA) and Greg Brody (1-0, 2 saves, 0.00 ERA).
The depth in arms is something coach Doug Jones believes can be an advantage when his team hosts Redan today at 5 p.m. The Raiders (19-12) rely more on bats like Patrick Smith (.463, 9 HR, 43 RBIs) and Deion Williams (.371, 3 HR, 20 RBIs) than a pitching staff with a collective 6.13 ERA.
"You've got to have kids who've logged innings," Jones said. "There are a lot of teams out there who are going to run some kid out there who hasn't been out there very much."
Wesleyan relied perhaps even more on its pitching depth in the second round.
Even after losing with defending Daily Post Pitcher of the Year Devin Stanton (3-0, 1.79) not having his best outing, the Wolves got a big pick-me-up from starters Strother White (10-1, 3.44) and Kevin O'Leary (5-2, 3.99) to outlast Landmark Christian in three games in a rematch of last year's title series.
Throw in versatile lefty Mason Colquitt (3-2, 2 saves, 2.21) and coach Mike Shaheen feels pretty good about his rotation heading into today's quarterfinal series against Calvary Day (26-2) in Savannah.
But he also knows he must get similar performances from his staff this time around, with the Cavaliers featuring a 1-2 punch of junior Dom DeMasi and sophomore Ryan Lawlor, who combined to give up just two earned runs and strike out 20 batters in 10 innings in a second-round sweep of Seminole County.
"I just feel like the big thing (against Landmark) was our pitching depth," Shaheen said. "We knew that even if we lost to their ace, we've got two other guys who can step up.
"I think it says a lot that even though Devin didn't pitch his best game, those two other guys (White and O'Leary) stepped up. And we feel like we're three starters strong, but if we had to close with Kevin in a game on Day 1, we could start Mason in Game 3 and still feel good."
Pitching was also a key for Gwinnett's other two remaining teams -- Providence Christian (18-12) in Class A and North Gwinnett (19-11) in Class AAAAA.
The Stars got outstanding work from starters Billy Mangum (4-1, 3.53) and Kevin Dodson (3-5, 3.89) and relievers Glen Williamson and Josh Carter to hold one of Gwinnett's hottest hitting lineups in Hebron Christian in check in the second round.
That quartet held the Lions, who had averaged more than 10 runs per game, to just six in a second-round sweep, and are hoping for more of the same when Providence travels to Augusta to take on Aquinas (22-8) and pitcher Erin Hawk and slugger Sam Few.
By comparison, the numbers put up by North's staff in a second-round sweep of North Cobb were quite modest, considering the Warriors reached them for a combined 18 runs in the series.
But when the Bulldogs needed outs in big situations, arms like left-hander Michael Aker and right-hander Daniel Szathmary came up big.
The staff will need to come up big again when North travels to Douglasville to take on Chapel Hill (24-8), which has had some clutch performances of its own lately from pitchers Martin Castro, Austin Rains and Dusty Davis, plus hitters like Davis and Kyle Barrett.