CHICKAMAUGA, Ga. — There is one bit of advice Gordon Lee High School baseball coach Mike Dunfee wants to stress to his Trojans before they take the field at Savannah's Grayson Stadium today for the GHSA Class A public school championship series.
The thing is, he's not sure they need to hear it.
"I just want them to have fun, but this bunch has fun every time they play," Dunfee said before loading the team on a charter bus to face Telfair County. "That might have been the one thing that held us back last year, but I'm not worried about this group."
The Trojans (26-8) lost in the title round a year ago to Schley County in a doubleheader sweep that included several uncharacteristic physical and mental errors on their part. Most of that Gordon Lee team returns today, having learned the lesson about getting too uptight.
"We just need to keep doing what we've done during the playoffs," said senior first baseman and pitcher Caleb Hopkins, a key part of the team's 6-0 postseason record this year. "We've all been in tough situations before, so if we just play our game we feel nobody can beat us."
The Trojans face a team with a similar story in Telfair (23-8). Those Trojans were the third seed out of Region 2, behind Irwin County and Charlton County. They reached the semifinal round a year ago before losing to eventual champion Schley and return a strong core, one Dunfee says will challenge his team in a way it has not seen yet.
"They are, outside of maybe Ringgold and Heritage, the most athletic team we have faced," he said. "They are playing good ball right now. We watched them on film a bit and they are aggressive, take big hacks at the plate. They are here for a reason, just like us."
A pair of brothers lead the way for Telfair. Senior Ian Blankenship is the team's pitching ace and shortstop, while sophomore Cameo Blankenship joins him as one of the batting leaders. Senior Ryan and sophomore Jarrett Dopson are also key starters, as is sophomore center fielder Trey Bess.
Gordon Lee, which lost four of its final regular-season games to fall from a projected overall No. 1 seed to No. 4, has gotten hot due in large part to its pitching. Senior Austin Thompson has rounded into form following a football injury, while freshman Jake Poindexter, Hopkins and Mason Pettigrew all have thrown shutouts in the postseason.
"We're going with the freshest guys we have, but everybody is ready to go," Dunfee said of his pitching, which has rotated the four starters. "They need to be, because it's going to take all of them to win this thing."
Gordon Lee has started strong at the plate in each of its playoff games, with a top of the order consisting of Thompson, Hunter Hodson, Hopkins, Dylan Minghini and Chris Potter doing big damage. The team's depth could come into play in the soupy Savannah air.
"It's going to be hot and humid, but we've got a lot of depth, especially on the mound," Dunfee said. "Hey, as long as we go down there and have fun and play our game, I like our chances."
Contact Lindsey Young at email@example.com or at 423-757-6296; follow on Twitter @youngsports22.