April 16, 2012
Folks, we all knew coming into the high school baseball season this spring that there was a ton of talent in Gwinnett County.
What we suspected, but may not have fully realized until recently, was how widespread throughout the county that talent is — especially among the higher-classification schools.
That's not to say the lower classification teams aren't also loaded. Defending state champions Buford (Class AA) and Hebron Christian (Class A) currently lead their respective region races, while GAC,
Providence Christian and Wesleyan are all right in the thick of races for state playoff berths.
But a look at the standings in Regions 7-AAAAA and 8-AAAAA would make even long-time observers hard-pressed to come up with a season in which there was so much talent — and so much parity — in the local regions as this year.
"It's one of those things where every (game), you know you have a chance if you can keep it close … late," North Gwinnett coach Frank Vashaw said minutes after his Bulldogs beat Peachtree Ridge 3-2 on Saturday at Coolray Field. "One of the college guys told me at the beginning of the year, 'You're going to find out when you get a three- or four-run lead, you think you're up by eight or nine.' I can't really attest to that, because we haven't had that situation, really."
Few teams in Region 7-AAAAA have been in that kind of comfortable position this season.
The North win over Peachtree Ridge on Saturday marked the 18th game in that region this spring decided by a single run, while six more have been decided by two runs.
In addition, seven region games have needed extra innings to determine a winner.
"In this region, every ball game, you're getting battle tested," said Peachtree Ridge coach Ryan Hanik, whose Lions have been had 10 of their 13 region games decided by two runs or less, including two in extra innings. "We've just got to hope that these (close games) help us in the playoffs, if we're fortunate enough to get there."
That last phrase, "if we're fortunate enough to get there," is the quite apt, given how competitive
Region 7 from top to bottom is this year. I can't remember a season in which there are literally no weak links in a region.
Sure, you can look at the standings and see Norcross at 3-9 and Duluth at 3-10 (heading into Monday afternoon's play).
But neither the Blue Devils nor the Wildcats can be seen as a sure thing. No team that features multiple pitching options like Norcross does with Chris Raasch, Joseph Wilber and Jackson Williams or Duluth does with Zack Erwin and Chris Rich can be.
In fact, both team also still have a shot at the last of the region's four postseason berths.
And while Region 8-AAAAA may be a little more top-heavy than Region 7-AAAAA, Gwinnett's other Class AAAAA region is also ultra competitive this year, with 10 games decided by one run and three having gone to extra innings.
While Parkview, Grayson and Brookwood are separated by just two games for the top spot, other upstarts like Shiloh, South Gwinnett and Archer have been able to more than hold their own with the leaders.
Even Central Gwinnett (in eighth place in the nine-team standings with a 3-8 region mark heading into Monday) has scored a victory over contender Brookwood this season.
And like Region 7-AAAAA, the answer to that competitiveness can be found in the proliferation of talent distributed throughout the region.
"You look at Region 8, too," Vashaw said from an outsider's perspective. "You've got two or three (big-time players) at Grayson. You've got two or three guys at Parkview. You've got the one kid (Lucas Sims) who absolutely can (do everything) at Brookwood. You've got (Josh) Nance at Shiloh. I don't know (much) about the other guys, but there's a lot of talent (in Region 8-AAAAA)."
Who knows whether or not this parity will help or hurt each region's representatives when the state playoffs begin next month, especially since the two regions are matched up with each other in the first round?
What is certain is that the last two weeks should be really fun to watch the postseason races shake out.