One state championship is a high school athlete's dream come true. Back-to-back state titles are a mark of a strong program. Three consecutive banners? That's a dynasty.
And it's exactly what Augusta Christian's baseball program is approaching.
The Lions enter 2007 as the two-time defending SCISA Class AAAA state champions, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're the favorites again this season.
"I feel like there's a lot of people writing us off because we graduated 11 seniors," Augusta Christian coach Craig Johnson said. "Until this group proves itself on the field, there's going to be the doubters."
Only time will tell how the new group of Lions will respond to the mounting pressure of a state title three-peat.
As in other sports, only the region schedule will count toward earning a bid to the state playoffs. Johnson ensured that his players will be fully tested by that time thanks to a brutal non-region schedule.
Augusta Christian will face Lexington High School, a South Carolina public school ranked No. 3 in Class AAAA, and North Cobb Christian, the defending Georgia Independent Schools Association state champions.
"It's tough. They're going to have to learn under fire," Johnson said.
Though many of the new starters might not have the playing experience, they've seen the Lions before them establish a winning tradition. They've also got a trio of seniors who know exactly what they're doing.
Josh Whitaker, last season's SCISA Player of the Year; Tyler Bourdo; and Taylor Hensley are the three returning starters for the Lions this year. All three have been a part of three state championship teams (two baseball and one football) at Augusta Christian.
"They give us a solid foundation," Johnson said. "They want to win one more state title. That's the goal for every team, and these guys have the ability to do it."
Unlike other Columbia County teams, the Lions will have more than a month of preseason practices before the regular season begins. Whitaker said the extra time is a much-needed luxury.
"Being out there now, I realize we don't have the same athletes we did last year," he said. "We're going to have to work hard. I know I've got to be a leader because of the younger guys on the field."
Augusta Christian's road to a possible state championship three-peat will begin March 13 when Augusta Prep comes to Lions Field.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.