Photo by Brian Paglia / Jacob Heyward and No. 1-ranked Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy are one of nine teams in Henry County in contention to make the state tournament.
Already Locust Grove baseball has defeated the top team in their region and lost to the third-to-last place team. The Wildcats have won and lost walk-off games, come-from-behind games and hold-on-for-dear-life games.
“For the stress level, I’d say I’d like [the region] to be clear cut,” Phillips said. “But for the four who make it to the state playoffs, they are going to be battle tested. There’s no walk in the park so far in this region for anybody.”
Seems that’s the case with most regions this season. The headlining regions with Southern Crescent teams — 2-AAAAAA, 4-AAAAA, 4-AAAA and 5-A — are jam-packed with teams vying for one of four state playoff spots.
Entering Tuesday, five teams in 2-AAAAAA were separated by two games; seven teams in 4-AAAAA were separated by four games; eight teams in 4-AAAA were separated by three games; and six teams in 5-A were separated by four games.
“Everybody’s kind of beating up on each other,” Union Grove coach Allen Franklin said.
Indeed, only Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy is unscathed, a perfect 11-0 overall and 5-0 in Region 5-A. The No. 1 team in Class A has a two-game lead over Holy Innocents, which is just a game ahead of Paideia, Landmark Christian and Pace Academy. And Strong Rock Christian (6-4, 2-4) lingers just a few games back.
But the hierarchy of contenders is far murkier elsewhere.
Yes, Dutchtown leads Region 4-AAAA at 8-2. But Griffin (10-3, 7-2) and Spalding (9-3, 7-3) trail by one win, Woodland (8-5, 6-4) and Locust Grove (6-6, 6-4) trail by two and Jonesboro (5-6, 5-5) and Upson-Lee (6-8, 5-5) trail by three. Stockbridge (6-7, 4-6) is just two games back from the fourth playoff spot and region coaches have heaped praise on Riverdale (3-11, 3-6).
“A lot of teams are all bunched up together,” Dutchtown coach Michael Breedlove said. “Everybody’s going to beat up on each other.”
Indeed, the Bulldogs have first place but only by two one-run, walk-off victories against Griffin (5-4) and Spalding (4-3).
“Dutchtown has done a great job this year,” Phillips said. “They’ve won a lot of close games, which shows their maturity and how well they’re coached.”
It’s the kind of unpredictablility that can shake up the standings in a matter of days.
McIntosh stormed out to an 8-0 start overall and 7-0 start in the region, but the Indians promptly lost back-to-back games to Starr’s Mill and Ola. Starr’s Mill has since ascended to the top spot and impressed coaches along the way. Franklin calls them the “most talented team top to bottom.” Ola coach Beau Edwards said the Panthers “by far have been the best hitting ballclub.”
But Union Grove defeated Starr’s Mill, 5-3. The Wolverines (9-5, 7-3) are just a half-game back from the Panthers. Same for Ola (10-3, 5-3).
Luella has made a similar precipitous rise in Region 2-AAAAAA. With a 2-0 win against Newton on Tuesday, the Lions (7-5, 5-1) have won four straight and seized first place. That streak started after a 10-6 loss to Lovejoy, which at 1-3 in the region is still within striking distance of a playoff spot.
And so the final push is underway. Region 4-AAAA coaches say teams that play the best defense will end on top. Region 4-AAAAA coaches believe clutch hitting will be paramount. Everyone knows they have to pitch.
How it all ends is anyone’s best guess.
“It’s just a toss up,” Edwards said.