Instead of playing a typical region slate, in which they play twice, but at different points of the season, they’ll be playing consecutive home-and-home games against one another.
Coaches cited a couple of reasons for their reasoning. The most important one is that teams will get to see the depth of the other teams’ pitching staffs, and it takes away their ability to save their ace pitchers for specific opponents.
“If one of us had a stud pitcher, we wind up seeing that one guy and not getting a true measure of the depth of peoples’ pitching staff,” Kennesaw Mountain coach George Hansen said. “We might see Harrison’s No. 1 twice and not see Hillgrove’s. If we do it this way, everyone will see your No. 1 and No. 2, but not see your No. 1 or No. 2 both times. It evens the playing field a little bit.”
Other reasons they’ve elected to do this is to get an early taste of the postseason series format, and it could intensify the rivalry factors a notch.
If there is a downside to this scheduling format, Hillgrove coach David Richardson said, teams who start slowly in region play could get swept early by a team before they peak, and that sweep could come back to haunt them if they’re playoff fate is decided by a head-to-head tiebreaker.
“It will be more like SEC or ACC play,” North Cobb coach Tom Callahan added. “It should ramp up the intensity a bit. The jury is still out on how we do.”
There’s little doubt the intensity factor is there, especially with Hillgrove, North Cobb and Harrison are coming off state quarterfinal appearances last season. All three teams are expecting to be just as experienced, as will McEachern, another returning playoff team that lost just three key players.
Each of these teams will rely on senior leadership to succeed.
North Cobb has most of its senior-laden lineup coming back, led by pitching ace Daulton Hill, infielder Elijah White, outfielder Billy Rose and catcher Patrick Smith.
Hillgrove will be loaded with senior anchors like infielder Chad Adkins, his brother and projected No. 1 pitcher, Chase Adkins, and infielders Wesley Drain and Tyler Weyenberg.
Harrison will also be senior-heavy behind pitchers Ben Schniederjans and Avery Greer, and outfielder Tony Flores, who hit .387 last season.
“Pitching will always be important, and I believe that infield defense is extremely important,” Richardson said. “You can’t give up free baserunners at all. The teams that pitch the best and play the best defense and move runners on base are the teams that will be most successful.”
For McEachern, juniors Trey Harris and Jared Walker are returning to bring fire into the lineup after hitting .404 and .357, respectively. Harris finished with 29 RBIs last season.
Kennesaw Mountain, which narrowly missed the playoffs, is returning most its players and will be anchored by a deep pitching staff led by sophomore Addison Reed.
In east Cobb, Walton, Lassiter and Wheeler will attempt to survive a Region 5AAAAAA that has added Roswell and Milton — both traditionally sound programs — into the mix.
While Wheeler struggled in region play last season after making the state playoffs in 2011, both Lassiter and Walton made it to the second round.
“The region is going to be good with Roswell and Milton moving back in,” Walton coach Shane Amos said. “Etowah is going to be tough. You got Cherokee, who always plays us tough, and there’s Woodstock. I think our region top five will be good. There will be a good team sitting out.”
Lassiter and Walton don’t want to be the team on the outside looking.
Both have experience on the mound — Walton with Georgia signee Stephen Wrenn and Lassiter with Caleb Kutsche. Both teams will also rely on timely hitting to make a return trip to the postseason.