The three ended up in a three-way tie for first place last season with 18-2 records, with each one sweeping one another. Allatoona (27-7) did collect a region championship trophy, but it ended up on the short end of a tiebreaker determined by runs allowed and had to settle for the No. 3 seed and lots of travel.
Still, the Buccaneers made a deep run before falling to Thomson in the state quarterfinals.
A sequel between these teams is close to being achieved, with Heritage-Catoosa possibly playing the role of spoiler.
Allatoona and Ringgold are both deep in pitching and lost a couple of big bats in the lineup. Cartersville doesn’t have as strong a pitching rotation, but it is still solid at No. 1 and No. 2 and may have an edge in offensive power.
Allatoona pitcher Clate Schmidt is back after posting a 1.29 ERA and 107 strikeouts in 65 innings pitched last year. Michael Royal also returns after going 10-1 with a 1.64 ERA, and all-region pitcher Lucas Brown will also chip in.
Catcher Marlon Melendez plans on catching all three and looks to be a force at the plate after batting .432 last year. First baseman Nick Hall also returns after batting over .400 and leading returning players with 31 RBIs.
“I think the obstacle for any team this year is scoring runs,” Allatoona coach Keith Hansen said. “Our primary strength is our pitching. We return our top five arms and all three starters. To be successful in our region, we have to be able to compete every day with the Ringgolds and the Cartersvilles of the world.”
Pope is another team that’s going to have to compete every day if it wants to defend its Region 5AAAA title. Unlike Allatoona, the Greyhounds lost some of the playmakers that steered them to the state quarterfinals last season before they bowed out to Whitewater.
Pope will have to make due without catcher Connor Lynch, first baseman Alex Hegman and pitcher Grant Papelian. But it does have stellar talent returning, which includes pitcher Duane Underwood, who is touted to be the team’s ace. It should also get a boost from third baseman Nathaniel Lowe and shortstop Tripp Sullivan.
Pope’s success will depend on how its veterans can mesh with the younger players coming up.
“I think we’ve got a lot of young guys and a lot of new faces coming in,” Pope coach Jeff Rowland said. “We’ve been swinging the bats OK, and we have a lot of competition at different spots, which is making us better. Any time you go in with so many open positions, it’s scary but it created good competition.”
Kell, which finished second behind Pope last season, is going to be young as well with many unknowns. The Longhorns have experience coming back in first baseman Jordan Dwyer, outfielder/pitcher Stephen Summey and catcher Reid Michalek, but it did take a hit in pitching with Jacob Brabon and Chris Goershel graduating.
“We have a lot of ifs and a lot of guys,” Kell coach Donnie English said.
Mount Paran Christian finished second in Region 6A last season and has most of its team returning from last season, including Tyler Crace and Ryan Murphy. North Cobb Christian may have to rebuild after graduating a large class of seniors from last year’s team.
A late-season collapse prevented Walker from being in the 6A mix at the end, but it will have enough experience returning to make another run at it. Whitefield Academy is looking to surpass the .500 mark with a young team after going 12-14 overall and 7-5 in Region 9A.