The baseball playoffs are upon us, and Handley, Wadley and RCHS will play first-round series starting this Thursday.
Here's a look at those three teams, how they got to where they are, and what might happen for them in the first round.
First round opponent: Greensboro
Playoff history: Handley is in the playoffs for the 11th straight season, but the Tigers have never advanced beyond the second round in school history.
How they got here: Handley entered its final area series against Holtville with the possibility of finishing first, second or third in the area. The Tigers lost the first game 9-5, but rallied to win the last two to win the series and claim the area title.
The decisive wins: Needing a win to keep their season alive in game two of the series Thursday, Handley pulled away late for an 11-7 victory. The Tigers saw an early 7-2 lead dwindle to 7-6 before they scored two in the fifth and two more in the sixth to give themselves a comfortable cushion.
Ian Hall made that lead stand up as the senior reliever got the final seven outs in scoreless fashion. Jaxon Whaley got the start and the win despite allowing four runs on five hits and issuing six walks.
Nate Pike was 1-for-2 with a double and three RBI, and his spot in the lineup scored four runs. Whaley went 2-for-4 with two RBI. Handley managed just six hits but drew seven walks and four hit batsmen.
Handley won the second game Thursday 14-6 to clinch the area title. The Tigers fell behind 6-2 in the second inning but erupted for 10 runs in the bottom of the second to take command of the game.
Logan Smith got the win in relief of Brantley Richardson. Smith came on with one out in the second and went 5.1 innings allowing 0 runs on one hit and striking out five. Riley Owens, Richardson and Pike each had three RBI to set the pace for the Handley offense.
Players to watch: Riley Owens (.400 average, 29 RBI) and Jaxon Whaley (.423, 27 RBI) have swung Handley’s strongest bats, while Evan Cofield (.370, 23 runs) leads the team in runs scored.
Whaley has been the ace on the mound as he is 5-1 with a 3.03 ERA. Logan Smith (5-3, 4.22 ERA), Cagan Hamby (1-2, 2.33 ERA, 2 saves) and Ian Hall (1-0, 1.79 ERA, 1 save) bolster a deep pitching staff.
Series outlook: Greensboro is the second place team from what became a two-team area when Sumter Central apparently did not field a team. There may be a significant talent gap in Handley’s favor in this series.
Coach says: “I know we’ve lost our fair share of games,” said Handley head coach Tyler Hall. “But there hasn’t been a game this year that I’ve felt like we couldn’t win. I’ve never thought that in any game that we’ve played that our kids quit at any moment in the game.”
First round opponent: South Lamar
Playoff history: Wadley won its area for the third consecutive season and is in the playoffs for the 12th straight year.
The Bulldogs, however, are still seeking their first playoff series victory in school history as they have never advanced beyond the first round since the AHSAA adopted a best-of-3 format throughout the playoffs.
How they got here: Wadley went 4-0 in area play, posting convincing wins over area foes Loachapoka and Lanett. In those four games Wadley outscored its opponents by a combined score of 73-8.
The decisive win: The Bulldogs clinched their third straight area championship with a 15-3 win over Lanett Thursday. Wadley scored at least two runs in every inning on its way to the 5-inning victory.
Gage Ogilvie and Blaine Caldwell had three hits apiece in the win, while Scooter Battle went 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles and Will Phillips was 2-for-4 with two RBI.
Phillips pitched 2.2 hitless innings and allowed a run on five walks while striking out seven.
Players to watch: Scooter Battle has been Wadley’s biggest threat in the lineup and its number one pitcher for most of the season. Battle leads the team with a .412 batting average and is second with nine RBI. He also has posted a 2-3 record with a 3.91 ERA on the mound.
Jacob Marable is second on the team with a .355 batting average and leads the Bulldogs with 14 runs scored.
Gage Ogilvie and Blaine Caldwell are another pair of double threats for Wadley. Caldwell is hitting .275 with seven RBI and has an 0-2 record with a 3.00 ERA, while Ogilvie has gone 1-1 with a 4.05 ERA and leads the team with 28 strikeouts. He has hit .250 with seven RBI.
Lakevian O’Neal leads Wadley with 10 RBI.
Series outlook: This should be a competitive series. Wadley will need Battle, Ogilvie and Caldwell to be in top form on the mound in order to have a shot. JaMichael Angel could be the wildcard for the Bulldogs as he is still rounding into form after missing all of last season.
First round opponent: St. James
Playoff history: RCHS has now reached the playoffs in seven consecutive seasons, but their second place finish in the area this season snaps a string of six straight area championships for the Tigers.
RCHS has been eliminated in the first round in both of the last two seasons.
How they got here: RCHS was swept by Dadeville in its first area series of the season, but rebounded to go 5-0 against area opponents Beulah and B.B. Comer to land the No. 2 spot in the area.
The decisive win: RCHS blasted Beulah 14-3 Thursday at French Park in Wedowee to earn a two-game sweep of that series and lock down second place in the area.
The game was decided in the third inning when RCHS scored 11 runs to build a 14-0 lead. Noah Turner went 3-for-3 and drove home a season-high five runs. Jake Smith was also a perfect 3-for-3 at the plate, and Nick Sims went 1-for-3 with two RBI.
Smith started on the mound and got the win as he went three innings and allowed two hits with no walks while recording six strikeouts.
Players to watch: Nick Sims is hitting .315 with a team-high 13 RBI, while Alex Sheppard leads the team with a .350 batting average to go along with 12 RBI.
On the mound, J.D. Till has been the team’s most consistent starting pitcher as he has posted a 2.50 ERA in 28 innings of work over 10 appearances (seven starts). Braxton Daniel (0.96 ERA in 10 appearances) has been the team’s best reliever. Nick Sims leads the team in innings pitched with 33.2 and has posted a respectable 3.12 ERA. Jake Smith (7 starts, 5.10 ERA) will also be a factor.
Series outlook: It’s a brutal first-round draw for RCHS for the third straight season. The Tigers lost to perennial contender Bayside Academy in two games in 2017, then had to face defending state champion Gordo in a first-round loss last year. And those two series were in Wedowee.
This year RCHS has to travel to Montgomery to take on St. James, which enters the postseason ranked No. 1 in the state in the Class 3A.
Coach says: “We’re just going to go down there and compete,” said RCHS head coach Pat Prestridge. “We know they’re going to have a lot of talented ballplayers, but we just want to go down there, compete and see what happens.”