Ryan Woodard (.324, 27 RBIs) has been more than solid for the Broncos throughout the season, especially in the postseason (.364, 12 RBIs). However, it's hard to match what the Panthers get from 2011 Daily Post Co-Player of the Year Matt Olson (.396, 9 HR, 49 RBIs), who not only leads Parkview in all three major offensive categories but ranks among the county leaders in them. Both teams have to make adjustments when each pitches -- Olson likely in Game 1 and Woodard most likely if a third game is necessary.
Advantage: ParkviewSECOND BASEThe Panthers took a blow when Jeff Ronpirin (.389, 2 HR, 26 RBIs) was injured during their second-round sweep of Tift County, but Jack Esmonde (.326, 1 HR, 20 RBIs) has been solid since moving from the outfield, though it is not his natural position. With Ronpirin still sporting a cast on his arm as of Thursday, it looks as though he may still be limited to pinch-running duties. Meanwhile, Blake Schuck (.241, 5 RBIs) has struggled offensively, but his .937 fielding percentage and strong turn as part of the Broncos' double-play combination with Lucas Sims has made him a force defensively. Jonathan White (.241, 4 RBIs) also sees action when Schuck moves to short during Sims' pitching starts.
This could possibly be the best individual matchup between the two teams, provided Parkview's Edwin Arias (.386, 1 HR, 23 RBIs, 7 SB, 43 R) is close to 100 percent. The senior injuried a shoulder breaking up a double play in the Panthers' semifinal sweep of Mill Creek. Brookwood counters with Sims (.364, 1 HR, 30 RBIs), who has been outstanding both in the field and at the plate. Schuck sees action here when Sims pitches.
Advantage: Even, provided Arias is himself
Rob Youngblood (.304, 3 HR, 22 RBIs) gives Parkview a steady, veteran presence at the hot corner, as well as at the bottom of the batting order. Brookwood counters with Michael Gouge (.395, 2 HR, 24 RBIs, 1.041 OPS), who struggled making the switch from first base to third early in the season, but has been much better defensively of late. More importantly, he's been among the Broncos hottest bat in the postseason, hitting .447 with 1 HR, 10 RBIs and an 1.187 OPS in 38 playoff at bats.
Count Garrett Reynolds (.413, 11 RBIs, 10 SB) among Brookwood hitters whose game has stepped up during the postseason, when he's hit .485 with 6 RBIs in 33 at bats. A.J. Davis (.241, 7 RBIs) hasn't been quite as prolific, but he's held his own and done what has been asked of him since entering the lineup when Ronpirin's injury forced Esmonde to more to second.
Like shortstop, this could provide one of the best one-on-one matchups in pitting each team's leadoff man and offensive catalyst. Cedric Mullins (.426, 5 HR, 28 RBIs, 1.250 OPS, 35 R, 8 SB) gives Brookwood a lot of pop at the top of the lineup and has been perhaps the Broncos' top overall offensive threat throughout the season. Josh Hart (.395, 2 HR, 19 RBIs, 43 R, 29 SB) is a threat to score any time he reaches base, and he's done that a lot lately with six hits in his last 10 official bats and two more walks.
After being designated hit for early in the season, Jordan Dykes' (.307, 17 RBIs) bat has caught fire for the Broncos with 15 hits in 36 postseason at bats (.417) and five RBIs. Tre Lawrence (.264, 4 RBIs, 9 SB) also sees time here when Dykes moves to first base during Woodard's pitching starts. The Panthers' Ryan Blanton (.298, 18 RBIs) has not been quite as hot lately, but is definitely battle-tested under pressure.
Hunter Thornton (.355, 3 HR, 15 RBIs) gives Parkview an advantage offensively, and has been solid defensively behind the plate. Meanwhile, Clint Carr (.364, 12 RBIs) is one of the few Brookwood bats struggling during the playoffs, though there's been little wrong with his defense, having gunned down nearly 16 potential base stealers this season.
Though he's battled injuries throughout the season, Jarrett Freeland (.333, 4 HR, 21 RBIs) has had a knack for big hits and RBI at crucial moments over the past two seasons. Brookwood counters with either Zach Moon (.264, 2 HR, 16 RBIs), who has had a power surge during the postseason, or Lawrence depending on the situation.
If the two coaches hold to the rotations they've used in the first four rounds, Game 1 should feature a classic matchup with Olson (11-1, 1.79 ERA, 82 K, 78 IP), who did not pitch in the two regular season games between the two teams, squaring off against Sims (8-0, 1.09 ERA, 91 K, 70 IP), who threw complete games in each of the Broncos' wins over the Panthers. Game 2 could be an equally-intriguing matchup pitting two pitchers with similar pitch-to-contact styles in Parkview's Jesse Foster (11-0, 2.06 ERA, 57 K, 78 IP) against Brookwood's Allen Tokarz (4-5, 2.66 ERA, 34 K, 55 IP). Lefty Woodard (6-3, 2.29 ERA, 58 K, 55 IP) has already won three Game 3s for the Broncos, and would likely get the call in this series, while the Panthers would likely choose between Esmonde (4-1, 3.06 ERA, 37 K, 32 IP), who is also the team's closer with six saves, and sophomore lefty Mac Marshall (2-4, 5.10 ERA, 23 K, 23 IP), who came up with a huge performance in Game 3 of the quarterfinal series with Hillgrove. Michael Ranieri (1-0, 4 saves, 0.95 ERA, 11 K, 14 IP) has also been lights out in the back end of Brookwood's bullpen.
Lawrence and Moon give Brookwood quite a bit of versatility in the outfield, while White is counted on to provide depth to the infield when Sims pitches. Injuries have forced Parkview to make some moves and taxed the team's depth, but the Panthers have managed to adjust. Even if Ronpirin cannot start, he can still provide plenty of speed on the basepaths off the bench, along with Marshall and Michael Craig.
As if a state championship isn't enough incentive, the neighborhood rivalry should turn up the heat for both teams. Brookwood has shaken off a slow start to win 18 of its last 22 games and is playing its best baseball of the season in just about every phase of the game right now. And the Broncos have the two complete-game wins by Sims to sweep the regular season weirs with Parkview. But the Panthers have championship experience and know what it takes to get the job done when they need it most. They also have home field advantage in what figures to be an emotionally-charged atmosphere.