When playoffs brackets are set by the Georgia High School Association, it’s never unusual that a semifinal caliber match-up occurs as early as the second round of a tournament.
That’s what Carrollton High baseball has today, starting on the home campus field. The 29-3 Trojans, champions of Region 5-6AAAAAA, are hosting Lassiter High out of Marietta in a best-of-3 ‘Sweet 16’ series that begins — and possibly could end — with a doubleheader. Game 1 first-pitch is slated for 4 p.m., and the second contest starts approximately 30 minutes after Game 1 ends.
If a Game 3 is needed to decide who moves on to the quarterfinal round, the two teams will re-convene at Carrollton High on Thursday.
Based on the MaxPreps GHSA Class 6A rankings, this is No. 2 (Carrollton) vs. No. 4 (the 26-5 Lassiter Trojans). Not only has Carrollton head coach Scott Johnson had to think about the pending match-ups, but he’s also had to focus on the weather conditions and forecasts. Monday saw several heavy downpours of rain, and more of the same took place Tuesday afternoon. But Johnson expects the skies to be clearer for game time Wednesday, and he said the field is able to handle what the weather gives.
The reason why Lassiter, with its record and ranking, is traveling west from Cobb County and playing the visiting role for Game 1 (the out of town team will be ‘home’ on the scoreboard for Game 2) is that, in Region 6-6A, Lassiter finished second to champion Allatoona, which happens to be No. 3 in the MaxPreps 6A rankings at 27-5.
Lassiter also only has one road loss for all of 2021, and that was to another 6-6A Marietta school, No. 8 ranked Pope High, on April 1. These Trojans haven’t lost since that date.
“They’ve played a good schedule,” said Johnson. “(Coach) Kyle (Rustay) does a good job getting them ready. They have two good starters, both right handers, who throw several pitches for strikes. They are solid defensively in all positions, and they can hit.”
For the earlier playoff rounds, Johnson said he feels it’s a big advantage playing at home with the familiarity factor in the home park, the home crowd support — and they don’t have to sleep during a bus ride for an hour, wake up and try to play baseball.
“All those little things can add up,” he said. “In later rounds, it won’t matter much. We’d be hyped up on the road.”
Plus, a team’s fan base will travel well when the stakes are bigger.
“We’re peaking at the right time,” said Johnson about Carrollton’s recent play. “We’ve got our pitchers throwing strikes and outs. I don’t care about strikeouts. Our defense knows where they’re supposed to be. And the hitting has really come around.”
A big-hitting story out of the first-round sweep of Habersham Central on April 29 was junior Ace Williamson. He hit three home runs and drove in 11. Bear Madliak had six hits and Parker Willis five. This is the kind of series, though, that has all the potential to go to a third and deciding game. If that’s the case, Johnson loves Carrollton’s chances with its pitching staff anywhere from eight to 10 arms deep. He used Eli Runyon and Colton Cosper as Game 1 and Game 2 starters vs. Habersham Central.
“They’ve all been tested and come through,” he said about a third starter. “Whether it’s Cade (Cosper) or Conner (Herriott) or any other who will be available.
“The motto of Game 3 is usually out-hit them, but I think we would have the advantage.”
If Carrollton gets by Lassiter, the quarterfinal series is assured of being at home again. The winner is paired with a match-up between Valdosta High, a region No. 2 seed, and Statesboro, a region No. 4 seed.
Another series on Carrollton’s side of the tournament is Pope playing at No. 1 ranked Buford.