Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Parkview's Matt Olson, left, and Providence Christian's Christin Stewart are the Daily Post Co-Players of the Year. They both led their respective teams to the state baseball finals.
Reputations like the ones Providence Christian catcher/designated hitter Christin Stewart and Parkview first baseman/pitcher Matt Olson have built up over their respective careers can often be a double-edged sword.
Garnering respect among your opponents is never a bad thing.
But the other side of that sword is that as quickly as word tends to travel in baseball circles, getting such a reputation means no opponent is going to let such an individual beat them.
In such cases, there are really only two things players like the 2011 Daily Post Baseball Co-Players of the Year can do.
First, they can rely on their teammates to force an opponent's hand and give them no choice but to give them an opportunity to come up big for the team.
The other is to come through when those opportunities arise.
"You just have to have a gameplan when you go up to the plate," Stewart said. "And my teammates are just amazing. They get on (base) and kind of force teams to pitch to me sometimes."
With a little help from their friends, both Olson and Stewart had the right game plan for their respective teams in many instances this spring.
Despite drawing an incredible number of bases on balls -- Olson was walked 48 times, while Stewart drew 41 passes, many for both intentional -- both were able to put up eye-popping numbers.
Olson finished the season with a .426 average with a team-best 17 home runs and 53 RBIs, plus 37 runs scored.
Meanwhile, Stewart's .500 batting average was impressive enough, but his 26 home runs -- which broke current major leaguer Micah Owings' 9-year-old state record -- and 70 RBIs -- a new Gwinnett County mark -- in 112 at-bats proved to be historic.
But more important than the sheer numbers were when some of the biggest hits from each player came.
Stewart matched his regular season batting average of .500 during the postseason and added eight homers and 23 RBIs in just 38 at-bats as the Stars advanced to their first Class AA state finals in school history before falling to county-rival Hebron Christian.
Perhaps the most clutch moment during that postseason run came early in the last of three Game 3 situations Providence faced in the state semifinals against Treutlen.
With the bases loaded and two outs in the second inning of a tie game, the 6-foot, 195-pound junior unloaded on the first pitch he saw for a grand slam that put the Stars ahead to stay, and on their way to the finals.
"In the first few rounds (of the playoffs), teams didn't really pitch around him, and he hit a bunch of home runs," Providence coach Adam Cantrell said. "From that point, people quit pitching to him. He was intentionally walked three times in that game, but he was selective. ... It's a gift, but he's been able to do that since he was a freshman."
Olson, likewise, came up with many clutch moments in Parkview's postseason run.
The 6-4, 225-pound junior hit .343 with seven homers and 20 RBIs in 35 playoff at-bats and played a major role in the Panthers winning their first Class AAAAA state title since 2002.
"In those (clutch) situations, I just kept my focus more than I normally do," Olson said. "Last year, I had a couple of times when I didn't get the job done. I wanted to come through for me team (this year)."
He definitely got the job done in what was perhaps the biggest moment of Parkview's season during the final inning of the deciding Game 3 in the championship series against Hillgrove.
After the Panthers had already rallied from a two-run deficit to tie the game, Olson stepped to the plate with two runners on and one out and delivered a towering three-run homer that put Parkview ahead to stay, and keyed what turned out to be a 13-run inning in the title-clinching 21-10 win.
"I heard somebody say (after the game) that it was a Jeff Francoeur (-like) moment," Parkview coach Chan Brown said of Olson's homer. "Then, I heard (someone else) respond, 'No, it was a Matt Olson moment.'
"He's just an all-around consistent player and an all-around team player. ... The cool thing about Matt is he's such a team guy and a program guy."
That also meant being a versatile player in order to help the team in ways other than just with his bat.
In Olson's case, that meant also contributing on the mound, which he did quite well with an 8-3 record, a 3.65 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 69 innings.
Included in those numbers was a 4-1 postseason record as he started Game 1 of all five of Parkview's playoff series.
"The main thing about that is having a short memory," Olson said. "Our pitching coach (David) Palmer preaches and let's us know, 'Don't carry an at-bat (to the mound) and vice-versa. Just keep playing the game."
Stewart also found ways to be more versatile to help Providence, especially when opponents pitched around him.
He often made teams pay by using his legs, as he stole a career-high 13 bases this season and scored 65 runs.
"Coach Cantrell gave me the green light to steal a lot," Stewart said. "It's all part of the game."
Co-Players of the Year: Christin Stewart, Providence Christian, and Matt Olson, Parkview
* Stewart, a junior, broke Micah Owings' 9-year-old state record by belting 26 home runs, and set a new Gwinnett County record with 70 RBIs to go along with a .500 batting average, 65 runs scored and 13 stolen bases in helping the Stars to the Class A state final.
* Olson hit .426 with team bests of 17 homers and 53 RBIs, and went 8-3 on the mound with a 3.65 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 69 innings to help the Panthers to their first Class AAAAA state title since 2002
Pitcher of the Year: Josh Heddinger, Buford
* The senior right-hander went 10-0 with a save, a 1.96 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 641/3 innings in helping the Wolves to the Class AA state championship, their first title since 1977. Also hit .378 with five homers and 32 RBIs while sharing time at third base
Co-Coaches of the Year: Chan Brown, Parkview, and Matt Champitto, Duluth
* Brown guided the Panthers to their first title in nearly a decade, while Champitto led the Wildcats to a 12-win improvement over last season, including their first postseason berth since 1997
* SS Edwin Arias, Jr., Parkview
.458, 7 HR, 34 RBIs, 44 R, 11 SB
* C Jerad Curry, Sr., Mill Creek
.348, 7 HR, 30 RBIs, 20 R, 1.109 OPS
* OF Christian Davila, Sr., Hebron Christian
.462, 10 HR, 38 RBIs, 21 SB, 59 R, 1.452 OPS
* 1B/LHP Troy Herterick, Sr., Buford
.434, 6 HR, 37 RBIs, 1.274 OPS, 40 R, 1-1, 3 saves, 4.97 ERA, 11 K, 122/3 IP
* 3B/RHP Jordan Hillyer, Jr., Hebron
.438, 14 HR, 59 RBIs, 11 SB, 40 R, 1.540 OPS, 7-0, 1 save, 0.67 ERA, 76 K, 412/3 IP
* SS/RHP Tyler Jarvis, Sr., Dacula
.402, 6 HR, 31 RBIs, 25 R, 4 SB, .453 OBP; 7-4, 1 save, 2.16 ERA, 84 K, 612/3 IP
* SS Danny Lockhart, Sr., Hebron
.548, 13 HR, 48 RBIs, 24 SB, 50 R, 1.641 OPS
* DH Zac Rinehart, Sr., Brookwood
.413, 2 HR, 40 RBIs, 32 R, 8 SB, 1.017 OPS
* SS Kent Rollins, Sr., South
.453, 9 HR, 25 RBIs, 30 R, 7 SB
* SS/RHP Lucas Sims, Jr., Brookwood
.429, 3 HR, 21 RBIs, 19 R, 1.145 OPS, 4-1, 3 saves, 2.38 ERA, 52 K, 321/3 IP
* 1B/DH/LHP Jared Walsh, Sr., Peachtree Ridge
.488, 9 HR, 32 RBIs, 3-4, 1 save, 2.42 ERA, 83 K, 52 IP
* OF/DH Drew Widner, Sr., Wesleyan
.452, 14 HR, 44 RBIs, 36 R, 1.448 OPS
* RHP Kevin Burgee, Sr., Hebron
8-1, 1.57 ERA, 83 K, 58 IP
* RHP Jake Burnette, Sr., Buford
8-0, 1.72 ERA, 1 save, 80 K, 57 IP
* LHP John Clark, Sr., Duluth
6-4, 3 saves, 1.14 ERA, 62 K, 671/3 IP; .319, 2 HR, 13 RBIs, 23 R
* LHP Mason Felt, Jr., Hebron
11-1, 1.30 ERA, 122 K, 70 IP
* RHP Brian Stillwell, Sr., Mill Creek
10-2, 2.44 ERA, 81 K, 742/3 IP, 2 no-hitters
* 2B Seth Bancroft, Sr., North
.381, 2 HR, 21 RBIs, 24 R, 6 SB, .927 OPS
* SS Devin Bonin, Sr., Mill Creek
.358, 6 HR, 16 RBI, 35 R, 13 SB, 1.069 OPS
* LF/RHP Jack Esmonde, Jr., Parkview
.409, 1 HR, 20 RBIs, 18 R, 7 SB, 4-1, 4 saves, 2.76 ERAs, 24 K, 251/3 IP
* DH/OF Mason Gentry, Soph., Buford
.381, 10 HR, 36 RBIs, 40 R, 1.316 OPS
* OF Josh Hart, Soph., Parkview
.449, 4 HR, 22 RBIs, 53 R, 18 SB
* OF Connor Kasten, Sr., Mill Creek
.423, 2 HR, 24 RBIs, 28 R, 11 SB, 1.141 OPS
* CF Trey Martin, Sr., Brookwood
.423, 4 HR, 18 RBIs, 38 R, 9 SB, 1.171 OPS
* 3B Nick Moore, Sr., Brookwood
.400, 6 HR, 27 RBIs, 32 R, 12 SB, 1.187 OPS
* C Jamie Ritchie, Sr., Buford
.447, 3 HR, 29 RBIs, 1.278 OPS
* LF Austin Smith, Jr., Providence
.402, 7 HR, 44 RBIs, 38 R, 1.179 OPS
* DH/C Nick Stidham, Sr., Providence
.406, 8 HR, 46 RBIs, 27 R, 1.150 OPS
* SS Kyle Streicher, Sr., Grayson
.420, 5 HR, 23 RBIs, 35 R, .770 slug
* RHP Brandon Agar, Sr., Brookwood
9-2, 1.99 ERA, 69 K, 67 IP
* LHP Jacob Beauchamp, Sr., Brookwood
7-2, 1.92 ERA, 62 K, 581/3 IP
* LHP Sam Clay, Jr., Buford
7-2, 2.03 ERA, 77 K, 481/3 IP
* RHP Chip Fleming, Sr., Mill Creek
7-3, 2.69 ERA, 61 K, 672/3 IP
* RHP Chris Rich, Jr., Duluth
5-3, 1 save, 2.20 ERA, 53 K, 54 IP, .280, 3 HR, 22 RBIs, 26 R