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Duluth-North meet in critical matchup

Photo by Jason Braverman

Photo by Jason Braverman

As crowded as the race for Region 7-AAAAA’s four state baseball playoff spots is, today’s game between Duluth and North Gwinnett is big enough.

So, it only seems appropriate that is it will be played one Georgia’s biggest stage for baseball.

The two teams will square off in this critical region game at Turner Field in Atlanta this morning at 9.

The game is part of a group of five high school games involving teams throughout the state over two days at the home of the Atlanta Braves, with Creekside taking on Sequoyah immediate following Duluth-North and LaGrange meeting Cartersville later in the day. Mount Pisgah and St. Francis opened up the weekend on Friday afternoon, along with a game between Carrollton and North Columbus.

“We knew the Gwinnett Braves were doing something this year (at Coolray Field),” North coach Frank Vashaw said. “And this is kind of similar. The carrot is that each team involved have a community night with the Braves (later in the season). Apparently (two teams originally scheduled) bailed late and they sent out an all call. The next thing you know, here we are.

“When you look at the level of baseball in Gwinnett County, ... we kind of felt like we needed to do it. Hopefully, we can make it a yearly or bi-yearly event.”

Given how close the region race as been, neither the Bulldogs (12-10 overall, 7-7 in the region heading into Friday’s games) nor the Wildcats (14-9, 8-7) have had much time to really build much anticipation in the game.

And as Duluth coach Matt Champitto points out, that may not necessarily be a bad thing.

“We’ve taken the approach all year long to go one game at a time,” Champitto said. “We haven’t even gone over our itinerary yet, but I know behind the scenes, (the players) are excited about going down there.

“You’re excited about going down there, but North and us are close, and it’s going to be a huge, huge game. As excited as we’re going to be, we’ve got to get those big eyes looking around (Turner Field) real quick because it’s going to be time to play.”

Indeed, today’s game will have a major bearing on the region race.

The Wildcats and Bulldogs are two of five teams that entered Friday’s play separated by just a game and a half for the region’s final three playoff spots. Mill Creek entered the night leading second-place Norcross by just 21⁄2 games.

“The openings (for Turner Field) came so late this had to be a region game,” Vashaw said. “If we’d had a chance to plan it better, I’m sure it would be a non-region game. But this adds to the excitement. And both teams will have to turn it around quickly after (playing Friday) night.”