Last year the Region 3-AAAA baseball championship was decided when Greenbrier High School won the last game of the regular season.
If the Wolfpack wants to defend that crown, they might need to win their region opener in 2004.
The Pack begins region play at home Tuesday against Cross Creek High School, and being at the Brierpatch is just a tiny bonus against the highly-touted Razorbacks.
"That's the only advantage I can think of," Greenbrier coach Ed Williams said. "Cross Creek is scary. They score so many runs, and they have three or four pitchers that could be the ace on any team in the state."
While the Pack is starting region play with the prep equivalent of the seventh game of the World Series, Lakeside and Harlem also will have pressure-packed contests to open their region slates.
Greenbrier's Chris Johnson is greeted by his teammates after being driven in by Brad Ramsbotham in the fourth.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
The Panthers start Region 3-AAAA action Tuesday at Statesboro, then play host to region foe Thomson on Friday.
In Region 3-AAA, Harlem jumps into the fray at home Monday against Jefferson County; the Dogs travel Wednesday to take on defending region champion Westside.
"We've got to win those if we want to win the region," Harlem coach Jimmie Lewis said. "If we lose those two, we might be battling for third or fourth place."
At least Harlem will get another crack at its region opponents, as Region 3-AAA has a home-and-away setup.
Region 3-AAAA, on the other hand, sports 11 squads, and each team faces the others only once in region play.
"There's a sense of urgency," Lakeside assistant coach Jay Matthews said. "There are five or six teams that could conceivably take the top spot in the region, so there's no margin for error."
That's why the Greenbrier-Cross Creek matchup is so intriguing - the winner gets a leg-up in the region race, and the loser will have to recover quickly.
"It's a tough region," Williams said. "You could lose three region games and be out of the state playoffs."
Last season, Greenbrier beat Lakeside to cap the regular season and clinch the region title, but had the Pack lost, they would have dropped all the way to fourth in Region 3-AAAA.
The Pack has been solid this spring. Greenbrier's top hitters have been Brad Ramsbotham, Brooks Robinson, Ryan Wallace and Scott Wandless. On the mound, Michael Newman has been spotting his pitches and picking up wins, while Greenbrier has also received solid pitching from Wallace, Wandless, Ben Dukes and Tanner Hayden.
"The defense is coming along, but I wish we were swinging the bats better," Williams said. "If we don't come in and play well against Cross Creek, we won't have a chance."
Lakeside had a chance to place second in the region last year, but the loss to Greenbrier pushed the Panthers all the way to fourth in the final standings.
Behind solid defense and speed on the bases, Lakeside is looking to move up the region pecking order in 2004.
The Panthers have several players batting above .300, with Dustin Tyra (over .400) and Chris Banker (over .500) swinging the meanest sticks so far this spring.
Like Lakeside, Harlem settled for fourth in its region last season, and despite a lackluster record, the Dogs have shown potential this spring.
Harlem has lost close games to strong non-region opponents - the squad squandered leads against Evans, Greenbrier and Lakeside, and booted away a possible win against Cross Creek.
"We don't have the greatest record in the world, but we're hanging in there," Lewis said. "We've played tough against these big teams. That's a pretty good sign. Hopefully this tough schedule is going to pay off in the region."
High points for Harlem have been the pitching of Jordan Whitaker, Matt Lewis, Felix Chinea and Clayton Bruce, but hitting has been an issue - Ben Hill has been leading the team at the plate from the No. 9 slot in the order.
With the race for playoff berths up for grabs in Region 3-AAA, the Dogs need to heat their bats up in a hurry.
"We can't take anyone in the region lightly," Lewis said. "All the region games are going to be tough. It's going to kind of be like coaching basketball in the ACC - every game is going to be a nail-biter."
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