Gwinnett teams square off as state baseball playoffs begin

The luck of the Georgia High School Association's draw has pitted Gwinnett County's two Class AAAAA regions against each other in opening postseason round in just about every sport this school year.

And while such pairings have produced some intense and competitive first-round matchups, the wealth of talent spread throughout the county could make the opening round of the Class AAAAA state baseball playoffs the most competitive yet.

"If you look at pretty much every spring sport, Gwinnett is good at it," said Parkview coach Chan Brown, whose top-ranked Panthers (21-5) begin defense of last year's state championship against Collins Hill (13-10-1) today at 4 p.m. at Hugh Buchanan Field. "There are some interesting matchups, to say the least. Four pretty good teams are going to be sitting at home by Monday -- teams that probably could beat a lot of the teams that (will be) left."

Four different best-of-three series get under way with doubleheaders this afternoon, and if the regular season races in both regions are indicators in any way, expect most -- if not all -- of them to go to the "if necessary" third games on Saturday, and for the scores in every game to be close.

All eight Gwinnett teams involved have played plenty of games close games, with Peachtree Ridge having battled through 18 of their 26 games decided by two runs or less.

"It's like I tell my kids, 'Why make it easy when you can make it interesting?'" joked Peachtree Ridge coach Ryan Hanik, whose Lions (17-9) play their first postseason home games with a doubleheader against No. 3 state-ranked Grayson (20-6) today at 5 p.m. "Hopefully, playing all these (close) games early on and battle testing will help us. ... I'd be shocked if there were not a lot of three-game series, and I expect every game to be close."

And with all eight Gwinnett teams from Regions 7 and 8 having played tough non-region schedules in addition to their rugged region slates, every team should be ready.

"Many times when you play more competitive teams (in the regular season), it helps you in the playoffs," said Brown, whose team posted a 9-4 record against postseason-bound teams throughout all five classifications from Georgia this season. "But everybody's in the same boat. We just have to hope our kids show up ready to play."

Considering how close the Gwinnett baseball community is both on the high school and travel circuits and the neighborhood pride that will be on the line, that shouldn't be a problem.

In addition, there was a lot of crossover between Regions 7 and 8 in non-region action this season, including two matchups that will be repeated in the first round, with Parkview having beaten Collins Hill in its season opener on Feb. 29 and Grayson having downed Peachtree Ridge two days later.

But despite the familiarity between all the local teams, much has changed over the past two-plus months, meaning earlier meetings shouldn't provide more than a general scouting report.

"I'd like to say it helps, but it was so early in the season, I'd hope both teams are much different teams now," Hanik said. "Having played 24 games since then, a lot of things have changed."

While Gwinnett's representatives in the smaller classifications' playoffs won't be facing each other, that doesn't mean their first-round opponents will be any easier.

Only defending Class AA state champion Buford (Temple) and Class A champion Hebron Christian (Glascock County) won't be facing a state-ranked opponent.

Lanier will be making its first postseason appearance in just its second year of existence as a school when they open up play in the Class AAA playoffs at fifth-ranked Ringgold today at 4:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, both last year's runner-up Providence Christian (No. 9 Landmark Christian) and Wesleyan (No. 2 Mt. Paran Christian) face tough opening-round tests in the Class A playoffs.