Throughout Lakeside High School's baseball history, the Panther program has fielded state playoff-caliber teams.
"It's a mainstay. We're used to being in the state playoffs," Lakeside coach Jay Matthews said. "We haven't missed out on one since '93."
During a rough 2006 season, that streak was in jeopardy. The Panthers sat at the bottom of the subregion and faced elimination on the road in the first round of the Region 2-AAAA Tournament.
It was a frustrating time for Lakeside.
"We would score 12 runs and lose games because we had seven errors," Lakeside senior Paul Miller said. "We out-hit 90 percent of the teams we played, but we struggled defensively."
Part of the problem came from Miller, who sat mired in a deep batting slump for most of the season. The lack of production sent the starting catcher down to the No. 9 spot in the batting order.
Then, when the team needed it most, Miller came alive.
Lakeside traveled to Statesboro for a best-of-three game series in the first round of the Region 2-AAAA Tournament. Two losses, and the Panthers' season was over.
Miller wouldn't have any of it.
"He was 2-for-2 with five RBI in game one," Matthews said of Miller. "He pretty much single-handedly won that game for us."
Miller's performance included a solo home run in the third inning and a grand slam in the sixth. The offense was enough for a 7-0 win over Statesboro.
Only one game away from a first-round sweep, Matthews thought about bumping Miller up in the batting order. After all, the senior provided almost all of the offensive spark in Game 1.
"We debated on moving him up after Game 1, but he got upset. He didn't want to move," Matthews said. "I don't think we could drag him out of that spot now."
Miller stayed at the bottom of the batting order and went 2-for-2 with two more RBI in a 7-2 win over Statesboro. The sweep was complete, and Miller was out of his slump.
The two wins also meant Lakeside was heading to the state playoffs again.
"We knew what the numbers were. We were the four seed playing the one seed," Matthews said. "We knew we could play with them. I told the guys, 'Let's go play good baseball and see how good they are.' We didn't think for a minute that we were going to go down there and get swept."
Instead, Lakeside did the sweeping and is now heading to the Class AAAA state tournament. The Panthers begin play Friday with a first-round series at Thomas County Central.
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