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Strong Gwinnett influence highlights high school showcase at Coolray Field

Since it opened in 2009, Coolray Field has hosted plenty of other baseball events besides Gwinnett Braves games, including several individual games featuring some of the county's top high school programs.

But for the first time, the International League team will welcome a full showcase to its home field with the 2013 Gwinnett Braves High School Invitational this weekend.

The event will consist of five games, featuring 10 high school teams -- nine from Gwinnett -- this Friday and Saturday at the 10,000-seat facility in Lawrenceville.

"We've had singular events before, showcasing some top high school baseball teams in the area," said Gwinnett Braves General Manager North Johnson. "Through the efforts of the community and our staff we have expanded to welcome the largest high school showcase in the history of Coolray Field. We want Coolray Field to be an outlet for the entire county and surrounding areas so they can take part in this one-of-a-kind experience. Our goal is to continue to provide these life-changing memories and for this showcase to grow into an annual event."

Many of the teams involved in the event have played at Coolray Field before, including Peachtree Ridge (2-3), which will close out the weekend by taking on North Forsyth -- the only non-Gwinnett team participating -- at 7 p.m. Saturday.

But with the Lions' previous experience having been an important region game against North Gwinnett, coach Ryan Hanik believes his players will probably have more fun against a non-region foe this time around.

"It's a neat atmosphere and the kids really enjoyed playing there last year," Hanik said. "But when you're going through a tough region race and chasing North Gwinnett (in the standings) and playing a tie-breaker (in the season series), it's hard to fully have fun with it. What I like about this year is (playing a non-region opponent) will let more of the kids enjoy it. We're excited about playing there."

Of course, there are other teams that will be making their first appearance at Coolray Field, including a pair of first-timers in Mountain View (5-0 heading into Wednesday's game against Gainesville) and South Gwinnett, which open the event at 4 p.m. Friday.

"It's a great opportunity for us to get on that kind of stage," Comets coach Steve Teschner said. "(The players) are excited."

All five games should also be very competitive, with six of the 10 teams involved having qualified for the playoffs last season, including defending Class A state champion Providence and Class AAAAA runner-up Brookwood.

Even some of the teams that didn't make last year's postseason are off to a strong start, like South, which was 5-1 heading into its game Wednesday's game with Walnut Grove.

And the Comets, who have gotten a boost from recent Auburn commitment Montrell Marshall and left-handed pitcher Brandon Matics, hope Friday's game continue their momentum as they head towards the beginning of Region 8-AAAAAA play.

"We've played extremely well so far," Teschner said. "We've been trying to maintain that pace ever since. So far, we've been pretty consistent since the opener. We'll throw our kids out there knowing what we have to compete against (in region). Hopefully, (Friday's game) will better prepare us for region play."