TUNNEL HILL, Ga. - For a baseball team that has an 18-3 record and averages eight runs per game, the Northwest Whitfield Bruins are, in their own coach's words, more substance than style.
They haven't lost in more than a month, and in that time Todd Middleton's team has scored 10 or more runs eight times. They've made a mockery of subregion 7B-AAAA, already clinching the regular-season title and a state playoff berth. But ask what makes the Bruins tick and their veteran coach has a quick answer.
"We don't have any superstars, and it's somebody different every game, it seems, that steps up," Middleton said. "Also, they like each other, which is a big thing. They don't get too high or too low, and they're pretty mature in the way they carry themselves. We're average or worse speed-wise, but in baseball IQ we're way up there. We're very consistent."
So consistent that three pitchers have started all but one of the Bruins' games and the other starting eight position players have been in the lineup all season. Brady Middleton, one of six seniors and the starting second baseman for three years, agrees that it's not a team making many highlight reels
"We've stayed level-headed and not gotten cocky or arrogant," said Middleton, who signed a letter of intent this week with Berry College. "We don't have a lot of big moments at the plate. We're certainly not flashy, but we get the job done to win baseball games."
What they have is a lineup full of high-contact hitters - good situational batters such as Brandon Smith, Diego Peralta, Edwin Hernandez and Middleton who don't mind making an out to move a runner. They also have a legitimate pitching ace in sophomore Seth Pierce (6-1, ERA under 1.50) and strong mound depth in fellow starters Andy Whisenant (6-1) and Wade Terrell (5-0).
"We have one of the best pitching staffs in the state," senior first baseman Kyle Brock said, "and when we're hitting there's no one that can beat us. This team seems to be able to focus no matter what the situation."
Some of that focus is likely a product of playing through a 20-loss season two years ago while in the state's highest classification and facing mostly Atlanta-area schools. Northwest had never lost that many games under Middleton, and things got tougher when the new Coahulla Creek High School opened and the Bruins lost a handful of good players.
"It's been a progression for this group of seniors," Coach Middleton said. "We were in an extremely tough region and we took some lumps. There were some bad losses, but we learned from it. It really helped us build for this year. This senior group loves the game and they don't complain about working hard during the season and the offseason."
They also don't mind that they're not listed in any state rankings.
"With the group we have, that stuff doesn't matter," Brady Middleton said, perhaps summing up the team's top attribute. "We just want to know who we're playing and what we need to do to beat them."