Lakeside pitcher Carl Burrow delivers a pitch against Evans. The Panthers lost against the Knights but won their next two games.
Photo by Jonathan Heeter
This was the year that Lakeside's baseball team would make its run in the playoffs.
The Panthers entered the season ranked No. 7 and returned much of the lineup that experienced a first-round loss to Hardaway, which made the state semifinals last spring. Lakeside did lose its No. 1 and No. 2 starters, Jonathan Crawford and Dustin Tyra, to graduation.
For a while, though, it looked like the Panthers might not even make a playoff appearance.
Lakeside lost five of its first seven games to start the season. Gone was the lofty preseason ranking and, for some, the confidence the players had going into the year.
"I'll have to admit that we were all worried," said senior pitcher Carl Burrow. "We thought this would be our year. We had all of the talent to win a state title. But it didn't seem that anything was going the right way for us."
The Panthers dropped their opener to Harlem and lost to Cross Creek, Loganville and Jones County. Wins over Harlem and Aquinas brought Lakeside to 2-5 overall.
"You kind of relate it to the major leagues," said Matthews. "You can drop a few but you have 21 games to work everything out before you go to that 2-out-of-3 (region playoff) series that means something."
But the lowest point came in a road loss to Evans, which was ranked No. 1 at the time.
Lakeside carried a one-run lead into the seventh before losing the game on two bases-loaded walks.
"That hit us real hard," said Burrow. "We felt like we had the game won. It was just real tough."
First-year Lakeside coach Jay Matthews, who became only the second baseball coach in school history after taking over for Jimmy Smith, was charged with getting his team ready to play two days after the Evans loss against Grayson in Gwinnett County.
"Coach did a really good job of making sure our heads were on straight," said Burrow. "They made sure we stayed confident."
Lakeside beat Grayson and then traveled to the Brierpatch four days later and upset No. 4 Greenbrier, 7-2.
Lakeside coach Jay Matthews has guided his team from a 2-5 season start to a .500 average. Matthews said his team is improving on the mound and at the plate, and will be a tough team to beat.
Photo by Jonathan Heeter
The battery of pitcher Sean Harrell and catcher Chris Banker excelled at the plate, going a combined 6-7 with three doubles.
"Even when we were 2-5, we didn't have a team come out and beat us," he said. "We lost some games, but nobody beat us. It didn't show record-wise, but we knew we could play with anybody. Beating Greenbrier was a confidence-builder."
Burrow said the current Panthers senior class had never won at the Brierpatch, making the win that much more special.
Lakeside, now even at 5-5, followed Friday's win over the Wolfpack with a 10-3 drubbing of Statesboro. The once-dismal Lakeside bats pounded out 15 hits, including four doubles.
"I think the kids realize they can play with anybody," said Matthews. "We're hitting the ball better and our pitching has improved. We already had the talent. I think we'll be tough to beat."
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