Titles not old for Wesleyan

NORCROSS -- It might be tempting to think many members of Wesleyan's baseball team might look at this weekend's Class A state championship series as old hat.

However, the Wolves -- even nine players who have had an active role on the team's titles the past two seasons -- have a fresh outlook as they travel to Augusta to take on Aquinas in this year's championship series beginning with today's 2 p.m. doubleheader.

"Winning state definitely never gets old," senior pitcher Devin Stanton said.

Perhaps, but there are plenty of factors that make this year's finals experience unique for Wesleyan (26-9).

For one thing, the Wolves will be facing a different opponent in the championship series for the third straight season after defeating Lovett for the Class AA title two years ago and Landmark Christian for the Class A crown last year.

This time, it's Aquinas (26-10), the Region 4-A champion that none of the current Wolves have ever played.

"We've never played against them," Wesleyan coach Mike Shaheen said. "They weren't a team early on when the playoffs started that media or other coaches talked about a lot. So, there's a lot of curiosity."

The Fighting Irish battled their way through three straight three-game series to get to the finals, including outlasting Wesleyan's Region 7-A rival Providence Christian in the second round.

"It's a little different because this time, we really don't know anything about Aquinas," senior rightfielder Conor Welton said.

One thing the Wolves will find out quickly about the Fighting Irish is that they can score runs as they've averaged 10 runs in their 11 postseason games behind a hard-hitting lineup that includes seniors Bowen Klosinski and Matt Foushee and junior Sam Few.

Of course, the Wolves have also been swinging hot bats during the playoffs, averaging 8.6 runs per game.

Among the hottest bats are two that have hit their stride as their games have gotten bigger.

While Daniel Cardwell has been red hot since shaking off a slow start of the season, the Wolves have also welcomed Conor Welton back to the lineup after missing much of the regular season with a knee injury suffered during football season.

"I feel like I'm seeing the ball very well," said Welton, a Georgia signee who is hitting .566 with six home runs and 13 RBIs in 17 games since returning to the lineup April 21. "I worked hard during the season when I was hurt so I could get back and play."

The other big difference for Wesleyan in this year's championship series is that it is the first time they will play for the title away from the friendly confines of Donn Gaebelein Field.

The trip to Aquinas will mark the end of an approximately 1,100-mile odyssey that has taken the Wolves from their home in Norcross to Savannah, Columbus and now Augusta over the last three rounds.

"The last two years, we've been playing at home," Stanton said. "This year, we've had to go on the road. So, it will stick out from the other two years if we can win it, which is good."

Playing at Aquinas may stick out for other reasons, as well.

There has been plenty of chatter on Internet message boards and blogs about the deep dimensions of the field in left and left-center field, estimated by some as far as 400 feet away from home plate -- much larger than the more cozy dimensions of Gaebelein Field.

However, Shaheen had a chance to scout out the facilities during Game 3 of Aquinas' semifinal series with Walker and spent some time talking with his team about it prior to Wednesday's practice.

And he downplays any potential effect a larger field might have on his team, pointing out the Wolves have already won one series on Calvary Day's spacious field in Savannah.

"It's not relevant talk," Shaheen said of the talk about Aquinas' field. "Until there's a rule that allows teams to move the fence in when they're hitting and out when they're not, it doesn't make a difference.

"Our field is talked about all the time, and we've yet to move it back when other teams get up (to bat). It's just two baseball teams playing each other."