If the goal of scheduling within a region is to determine the top teams, Georgia's 7-AAAA baseball coaches believe they've found the right method.
Starting this week, league teams will play three-game series against each other with one school hosting on Tuesday and Friday and the other hosting the Thursday game. Next year the order will be reversed. The idea was actually a solution for finding games after region coaches elected to subdivide.
"We needed what amounted to 16-18 games, and to get those we were likely going to have to travel to the Atlanta area several times," Ridgeland coach Scott Harden said. "When this idea was proposed, no one at first thought it would fly, but the more we looked at it, the better we felt. This really gives us a better feel on how you match up with the other teams and it gives us more games with our natural rivals, which in turn will give us all better gates."
The move also eliminates the luck, or lack thereof, of the schedule.
"This way, if one team has a dominant pitcher you will see him the same number of times all the other teams do," Dalton coach Shane Ramsey said. "The depth of your pitching will be a key. I'm excited about it, and I know my players are as well."
The other benefit of the schedule is that built-in makeup days are available. It also could make for an exciting last week.
"If a game gets rained out it, will be completed that week," Harden said. "We can use Wednesdays and Saturdays for makeup games, or we can have a doubleheader. I also think it gives everybody hope that leading into the final week you still have a shot."
The idea went over so well that the other subregion is implementing the schedule as well. The regular-season champions will get byes into the region tournament semifinals and automatically earn state playoff berths.
Hitting home runs was a huge part of Ringgold's run to the Class AAA state-title series a year ago, but most of the power graduated. The Tigers this season have relied more on putting the ball in play, moving runners and being aggressive on the basepaths.
Last Friday's game against Soddy-Daisy, however, brought back memories. Trailing 3-0, Ringgold erupted for 11 runs in the third inning, eight coming on grand slams by Austin Parrish and Logan Baldwin.
"It is a rare thing to have two in one inning," coach Brent Tucker said. "It was nice to see us get some two-out hits as well, because we've been leaving a lot of runners on. You never know, it might have a carryover effect. Hitting is contagious."
Dalton senior pitcher Brandon Dale returns to action this week after battling an injury. He pitched a complete game in the season-opening win over Coahulla Creek, but his Catamounts have lost all six games since.
"He's missed the last month, so we're very glad to have him back," said coach Shane Ramsey, whose team has lost twice each to Ringgold and Calhoun. "If he's healthy we're not 1-6 right now. With region play starting this week, everybody's 0-0 as far as we're concerned."
One of the big reasons for Ridgeland's 6-1 start is the breakout beginning of first baseman Trey Hill. The senior, who missed last season after tearing an ACL, is hitting .447 with five home runs for the Panthers.
"He's definitely a late bloomer," Harden said with a laugh. "Two years ago he was 5-foot-10 and 135 pounds. Now he's 6-3, 230. I know you put on weight when you have to recover from surgery, but I've never seen anyone grow that much."
Hill's season start has drawn the attention of scouts, said Harden, who might have a tough call to make in the coming weeks. The coach shares the school's single-season home run record of 14.
"Yeah, I may have to sit him if he gets close," Harden joked.
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