If I could grant a wish this Easter, I would give Lakeside coach Jay Matthews a few runs. That is the difference between the Panthers being 0-7 in region play, and Lakeside pulling off some huge recent wins.
Lakeside opened the season 7-1, but two things happened. First, Matthews had to remove several players (some from before their recent skid) because of a “zero tolerance” policy he instituted this year. Secondly, the team went through an incredibly tough stretch of games. The Panthers are 2-7 over their past nine games.
The list of opponents is a who’s who of state contenders. They have played AAAA’s top two teams, Greenbrier and South Effingham, twice each. They have also played Harlem, a team ranked No. 9 in Class AAA, and perennial powers Evans, Effingham County and Statesboro.
The Panthers’ two wins came over Harlem and Cross Creek, but keep in mind they were very close to several other wins. They blew an 11-5 lead and lost a 12-11 decision to arch-rival Greenbrier, and they also lost a one-run game to South Effingham 4-3. That could have easily been back-to-back wins over the top two teams in Class AAAA. They also had narrow losses to Evans (6-3) and Effingham County (5-3).
For Lakeside fans, all I can say is, be proud of your coach and the team. This group has been through a lot this year. It would have been easy for Matthews to ease up on his zero tolerance policy to keep a few key players on his team, or to handle certain situations internally, but he did not.
In each case, he did the right thing, and his players are learning a great deal about teamwork, being responsible and dealing with adversity. Each trait will help them tremendously in the future.
’Packin a wallop
Greenbrier seems to be hitting its stride offensively. The Wolfpack ran their record to 14-2 when they rallied past Lakeside earlier this week. The ’Pack scored seven runs over the final three innings to squeak past Lakeside. Last weekend, Greenbrier won a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown with South Effingham behind another solid outing from junior pitcher Austin Robinson. Robinson improved two 5-0 with the win.
Also, the Greenbrier bats have really started to heat up. Earlier this season, Greenbrier suffered back-to-back defeats, causing head coach Chris Wilkins to comment about the team’s lack of hitting. His players took notice, especially Clint Hardy. In last weekend’s wins over Statesboro and South Effingham, Hardy was 6 for 8, and he followed that up with a pair of hits in the victory over Lakeside. Senior Jordan Hunt has also been hot. He went 3 for 3 vs. Statesboro and had a pair of hits over Lakeside, too.
As good as Hardy and Hunt have been, the team’s most consistent performer at the plate might be Spencer Duffie. Duffie had seven hits through the team’s past three games and he also picked up the win on the mound vs. Statesboro.
Greenbrier stands at 14-2 overall and 8-0 in region play. It will likely be No. 1 in all polls by the time you read this. And keep in mind the Wolfpack are doing this in 2B-AAAA which, in my opinion, is the toughest subregion in the state, with Greenbrier, South Effingham, Evans, Effingham County, Statesboro and Lakeside.
Big game looming
Harlem High once again is in the thick of a region championship race. The team is 13-5 overall, 5-3 in region play, and is ranked No. 9 in Class AAA. The Bulldogs opened region play 4-1, but have dropped two of their past three games.
On Tuesday, Harlem faces Westside with its hopes of a region crown in the balance. Harlem lost to Westside 9-6 in March and would love to get revenge. Currently, the Patriots are tops in 3B-AAA with a 6-2 region mark, with Thomson (5-3), Harlem (5-3) and Grovetown (5-3) giving chase.
The Bulldogs will be trying to bounce back from a pair of devastating losses. First, they dropped an extra-inning game to Thomson 4-2. Then they lost a one-run game to Grovetown 2-1. Bulldogs fans are hoping the team’s 14-1 whipping of Richmond Academy has the team back on track.