Gwinnett teams share point of view as baseball semis approach

Each of Gwinnett County’s four remaining baseball teams in the GHSA’s state playoffs have their own unique perspective as they prepare for their respective semifinal series, which get underway with doubleheaders Monday.

Yet, many share a few things in common.

For instance, both Parkview (29-5), which plays host to Lambert in a Class AAAAAA semifinal at Hugh Buchanan Field, and Buford (29-3), which welcomes Cartersville to Gerald McQuaid Field for a Class AAA series, are returning to a round they have become quite accustomed to.

The Panthers are in the semis for the fourth straight season, while the Wolves will be making their fourth semifinal appearance since 2005.

However, the makeup of the two teams that have gotten those respective programs there are quite different.

While Parkview features a handful of experienced players with a large group of first-time players that have waited their turn to contribute, Buford will rely on several players who got a baptism of fire as youngsters that are far more seasoned than the team that got bounced from the first round a year ago.

“We had some growing pains last year,” Buford coach Tony Wolfe said. “But it’s paid off this year. It’s been fun to watch those guys mature.”

Among those who have matured have been Buford’s three-man starting rotation of Jake Higginbotham (8-0, 0.60 ERA, 114 K, 58 1/3 IP), Connor Bennett (6-1, 0.56 ERA, 63 K, 37 2/3 IP) and and Kevin Coulter (10-0, 1.17 ERA, 58 K, 47 2/3 IP) as well as big bats like Joey Bart (.484, 7 HR, 48 RBIs, 1.468 OPS), Austin Upshaw (.475, 7 HR, 47 RBIs, 6 SB, 1.469 OPS) and twin brothers Austin (.404, 20 RBIs, 6 SB, 1.077 OPS) and Nick Wilhite (.444, 2 HR, 26 RBIs, 9 SB, 1.111 OPS).

And Wolfe knows it will take all that gained experience for the Wolves to advance against the defending state champion Purple Hurricanes.

“They’re well-known in baseball circles,” Wolfe said of Cartersville. “They’ve had a lot of success over the years, and (Stuart Chester), in my mind, is one of the top two or three coaches in the state. They graduated quite a few kids from last year’s state championship team, but he’s got them back (in the semis).

“We’ve got great respect for their program, and it will take one of our better efforts to win.

“We’re going to get tested. We have to execute some things and get the big hit when we need to.”

By contrast, the shared perspective of Gwinnett’s two remaining Class AA teams, Wesleyan (18-14) and Greater Atlanta Christian (19-12) is obvious.

Aside from being west Gwinnett neighbors joining Westminster in making up 3/4 of the semifinal bracket from Region 6-AA, the Wolves and Spartans are making their first semifinals appearance in quite some time.

Wesleyan will be there for the first time since its last state championship year of 2010 when it travels to Benedictine for a series Monday.

It’s been even longer since GAC has been this far — 2004, to be exact, and outgoing head coach Cliff Shelton believes his Spartans are hitting their peak both mentally and physically as they prepare to hit the road to take on Westminster in the other AA semi.

“I think (the players) really believe in themselves,” Shelton said. “It’s hard to put my finger on it, but I think me and the seniors have bonded like no other group of seniors I’ve had. It may be because we’re in the same boat. We know that these are some of the last games we’ll have, and I feel incredibly close to them. And they’ve picked the right time to play their best baseball.”

Led by the likes of seniors Justin Lewis (.348, 3 HR, 1 RBIs, 8 R, .971 OPS, 3-4, 1 save, 1.97 ERA, 34 K, 42 2/3 IP), Devin Daugherty (.348, 3 HR, 1 RBIs, 8 R, .971 OPS) and Jackson O’Brien (.338, 1 HR, 10 RBIs), GAC has extended the stay of both themselves and Shelton.

The Spartans had to wait a little longer to clinch their spot because of a rain delay. GAC went back down to play Berrien in Game 3 on Friday and rolled to a 8-1 victory.

Peyton McGuire pitched seven innings, allowed just two hits and struck out five.

O’Brien (2-for-4, double, RBI), Lewis (2-for-4, RBI), Daugherty (2-for-4, RBI) and Connor Joseph (solo homer) led the hit parade.

And the Spartans will see a very familiar opponent in region rival Westminster, with which they’ve split four regular season games with.

“We have no fear of Westminster,” Shelton said. “Now, we have a lot of respect for them, and there’s a difference. They’re a great hitting team, but it’s nice not to have to scramble around for a scouting report. They’ll have no surprises for us, and we’ll have no surprises for them.”

State Semifinals


Lambert at Parkview

Game 1 — Monday, 4:30 p.m.

Game 2 — Monday, 20 minutes following Game 1

Game 3 (if necessary) — Tuesday, 5:30 p.m.


Cartersville at Buford

Game 1 — Monday, 4:30 p.m.

Game 2 — Monday, 20 minutes following Game 1

Game 3 (if necessary) — Tuesday, 5:55 p.m.


Wesleyan at Benedictine

Game 1 — Monday, 1:30 p.m.

Game 2 — Monday, 20 minutes following Game 1

Game 3 (if necessary) — Tuesday, TBA

GAC at Westminster

Game 1 — Monday, 4 p.m.

Game 2 — Monday, 20 minutes following Game 1

Game 3 (if necessary) — Tuesday, 5:30 p.m.