Etowah-Woodstock rivalry shifts westward for state championship showdown
After celebrating their series-clinching wins Thursday, the Woodstock and Etowah baseball teams began to turn their focus toward next week, when the archrivals face off for the Class AAAAAAA state title.
What is usually a battle for Towne Lake bragging rights will take on statewide importance next week when the Etowah and Woodstock baseball teams begin their battle for the Class AAAAAAA state championship.
The series is set to begin Wednesday with a 5 p.m. doubleheader in Rome, after the conclusion of the Class AAAAAA series between Pope and Lee County. If a decisive third game is needed, it would be played the following Saturday.
With the two county rivals facing off, Cherokee County is guaranteed its first boys team championship of any kind since Etowah golf in 2005, and its first baseball championship since Canton High won in 1948.
With the Georgia High School Association choosing to now use neutral sites for the baseball championships, the venue for the games will be State Mutual Stadium, home of the Atlanta Braves’ Class A minor league affiliate.
Playing in a minor league stadium could have some effects.
The bigger adjustment could be for Etowah, whose home field measures 300 feet down the lines, 330 to the gaps and 360 to center field. State Mutual Stadium measures 335 feet to left field, 330 to right and 401 to center.
Etowah coach Greg Robinson called it “the great equalizer.”
“You better have your double cuffs on,” Robinson said. “The gaps are deep. Some balls that wouldn’t be triples will be triples in this park. That’s the main difference. There won’t be any cheap home runs. We play in such a small yard, we’re used to seeing that stuff, but we’ll all be on equal footing there.”
Woodstock has the added benefit of playing on a bigger home field.
The Wolverines’ field measures 330 feet to left and right and 375 to center, and coach Jeff Brown believes his team’s game is well-suited for the minor league park.
“I don’t think it changes anything,” Brown said. “That’s one of our strengths. We rely on pitching and defense mostly. We don’t lean on the long ball very much, so I think our game is pretty well suited for it.”
Perhaps an even bigger discrepancy comes in the coaching matchup.
Robinson is in his ninth season at Etowah. He has been to the state quarterfinals in each of the last three seasons, and he already has a state championship after leading Milton to the title in 2004.
“You want to celebrate getting there, but you have to keep climbing,” he said. “For some people, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I feel blessed to be able to go back. It’s been 13 years. Some guys coach their whole career without a chance. I feel very fortunate to be going back.”
Brown, meanwhile, is in his first season as a head coach, after serving the last four as Woodstock’s pitching coach.
Though he may not have the same experience as his Etowah counterpart, Brown has had no problem leading a Woodstock program that had never before won a playoff series to the finals, and he intends to keep his routines going.
“I was excited for the job, because I knew we had a good group here,” Brown said. “We knew, if we could put everything together, we had a chance to be a special team. We’ve played some good competition, but we’ve been doing what we thought we could and found ways to win.”