The Trojans will again have to battle with region regulars in two-time defending Class AAA state champion Columbus, LaGrange and Troup, which all made at least the state quarterfinals last season. Joining the already stout competition is last year's Region 5-AAAA champion, Alexander, making a top-four finish that much harder to achieve.
"It's going to be a dogfight for that top spot. Adding Alexander to the mix, they were the region champs out of a pretty tough region last year, that's just going to make it that much more competitive. Along with Columbus, who were the state champs last year, then you add Troup and LaGrange, who were elite eight last year. It's going to be a battle. But you know if you make it through this region, you feel pretty good about yourself going into the state playoffs," Carrollton coach Ryan Zaideman said.
Last year Carrollton proved that by finishing second in the region and taking out a region championship team on the road in the second round. The third seed made it to the quarterfinals and the fourth seed made it to the state semis.
Through 10 games this season, the first-year coach is pleased with the group he has to work with. The three losses the Trojans have suffered have been by a total of five runs against three quality teams.
"I like where we're at right now as a team. There's not a group I'd rather be going into battle with and going through the grind each day. They've worked hard, they've really put in the time and the energy. They don't fold, they battle through and there's a lot of synergy with this group," Zaideman said. "Dunwoody is a very good ball club, along with Cartersville. Those games could have gone either way. We didn't really play well in the Cartersville game and in the Hiram game we were just sloppy. We deserved to lose that one as bad as we played."
There are still two non-region games left on Carrollton's schedule, but only one before the first region game of the year. Tuesday's game against Hillgrove has been moved to Wednesday to help with its region schedule, but will provide a final chance to face a quality team before the Trojans host Columbus on Thursday night.
The non-region schedule was tough on purpose so the team could be prepared for what it will see come region time.
"Hillgrove is a team we feel is on the same, high-quality level as Columbus, as far as talent and how they match up," Zaideman said. "We've loaded up the schedule on purpose to get it ready and it has. We've seen some very good pitching, we've seen some crafty guys that throw a lot of off-speed stuff. We've seen both sides of the spectrum, as far as pitching goes."
Wednesday's game will also give a final chance for the Carrollton coaching staff to make some final decisions for some contributing players, a replacement at catcher if Drew Dickey remains unable to play and solidifying the bullpen spots.
While opening up the region schedule against a team with as much success as Columbus isn't ideal, it will be a good measuring stick for the Trojans. And, with 13 region games still left after Thursday's opener, there is still plenty to play for win or lose.
"Coach [Bobby] Howard has a good program over there, but our guys are hungry. Right now, we're focused on Hillgrove and we'll play it one game at a time. Once we get done with that Hillgrove game, we'll focus on Columbus. I know they're geared up and we're winding down our non-region and start cranking up that other season when it counts."