As they continue a three-game series with George Mason, opening Thursday with a 3-1 win, the Panthers (36-18) can clinch a third straight bid into the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, which only takes the top four teams from the league.
With that, Georgia State can also take a shot at its second trip to the NCAA regionals in program history, the first time coming in 2009 by virtue of a CAA championship. The Panthers are one of only two CAA teams to reach the conference tournament in the last two years.
When Georgia State reached the Atlanta Regional in 2009, former Kell High School standout Brandon Williams was there. He was just a freshman, but Williams remembers enough of the experience to realize that he wanted more.
“It’s been a great experience, and I’ve learned a lot of things,” he said. “As a freshman, we reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history. Coach (Greg) Frady has the program going in the right direction. Recruiting keeps getting better and better as the years have gone on. We feel like we have a good shot if we play we are capable of playing.”
Now, Williams is a junior and has matured into one of the top offensive threats for the Panthers. This season, he is hitting .356, with an on-base percentage of .462. He has one homer, 13 doubles, 35 RBIs and 12 stolen bases.
“As a coaching staff, you always want to try and help your guys,” Frady said. “He has done a good job of learning and he has worked really hard, made adjustments in the game and put himself in position to have personal success. I can’t say enough about what he has brought to the team.”
Going into the series with George Mason, Williams was fifth in Georgia State history in doubles (46), tied for sixth in runs scored (132) and tied for eighth in hits (208).
“He will have most of the records,” Frady said of Williams, if he stays for his senior season. “Not only has he been a good performer, but he has had a chance to do it for three years — getting opportunities for at-bats goes a long way for a chance to get some records. When you are productive like Brandon, you have a chance to set records.”
Though Williams has learned much from the coaching staff at Georgia State, he was well prepared for his time in college by his time facing top pitchers from throughout east Cobb and north Fulton during his time with Kell in the vaunted Region 6AAAAA lineup. Several of the pitchers Williams faced went on to get drafted or become college aces, as Kell coach Donnie English recalled.
“Playing in that region back when they were in school, every year, someone out of that region was playing for the state title or almost playing for the state title,” he said. “It’s very seldom you go out and play someone that you didn’t see a Division I pitcher. Certainly, that’s the reason that so many have had a lot of success (outside of high school). They were seeing (quality pitching) every day because a lot of them ended up getting drafted or going to school.”
Since the school opened in 2002 — coincidentally, right across the street from the home base of the highly regarded East Cobb Baseball organization — Kell’s baseball program quickly became a part of the strong east Cobb tradition. In fact, when Williams was a high school sophomore in ’06, the Longhorns made it to the state finals for the first time.
Even though Kell were swept by nearby rival Lassiter in that championship round, the Longhorns proved that they had arrived.
“The thing Kell had going was that we were very close to east Cobb,” Williams said. “We were a new school, but we were able to blend in with east Cobb’s reputation. The school was able to get off to a good start right away. That area has always been a hotbed.”
Just like Kell, Georgia State is surrounded by an area rich in baseball talent. Though the Panthers haven’t had much resembling baseball tradition in their past, fourth-year coach Frady has made strides toward competing with not only the top programs in the CAA, but also some of the top teams in Georgia.
“I think that us making it to the NCAA regional a couple of years ago put Georgia State on the map,” Williams said. “Last year, we made it to the conference tournament, and are definitely in position to contend again. Georgia State has put together three or four good seasons in a row. It’s being more recognized for sure.”
Williams has been a key component of that building process, just as he was a key part of some of the best years in Kell’s program history.
“He came into a good program, and he helped build that program at Kell,” English said. “Then, he goes down (to Georgia State) and pretty much does the same thing.
“It’s nice to see all of the hard work, and see that it’s paying off for him now. (Georgia State’s) got an outstanding program up there. It shows some character with him.”