Finalists bolster Cherokee County’s baseball reputation
Carlton D. White
While Etowah and Woodstock will be playing for the Class AAAAAAA state title, Scott Bradley, above, had his River Ridge team on the cusp of the Class AAAAAA final.
Cherokee County will cap a banner baseball season this week when Etowah and Woodstock meet in Rome for the Class AAAAAAA state championship.
Though the Eagles and Wolverines are the only teams still playing, ensuring the county’s first baseball state championship since Canton in 1948, the overall success has had an effect on other local teams, too.
One team that greatly improved its reputation this season was River Ridge, which reached the Class AAAAAA semifinals after entering the season without a playoff series win. The Knights, though, could not get past Pope to clinch a finals berth.
“To think where we started, with just freshmen, it’s really cool,” said Scott Bradley, who has led the Knights’ program since its inception. “In eight years, we’ve made huge strides. It’s really exciting. I remember when we first started trying to get sponsors, and people didn’t even know where we were. Now, all kinds of businesses and people in the community are reaching out to us.”
Congratulatory texts and tweets are an indicator that River Ridge has arrived on a state level, but the Knights are not the only team gaining more respect.
Woodstock and Etowah each finished the regular season at 7-9 in Region 4AAAAAAA, and having the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds playing for a state championship only speaks to the strength of the region. Roswell, which finished fifth in region play, qualified for the state tournament as an at-large and forced top-seeded Hillgrove to a third game in the opening round.
“I think it says a lot,” said Cherokee coach Ben Sosebee, whose Warriors finished one game back of Roswell in sixth. “Top to bottom, it has to be one of the strongest regions in the state. Even losing Wheeler and Pope, we still have six good programs. I think it’s starting to shift away from Cobb and Gwinnett counties being the center of Georgia high school baseball.”
Cherokee went 2-1 against Woodstock this season and had a chance to make a final push before being swept by Etowah in the season’s final week.
From the outside, the state finalists’ records may not have indicated where they would eventually end up, but Sosebee said he knew, based on the competition, that both of the Towne Lake neighbors would have a good chance at a deep run.
“I’m not surprised where they are,” Sosebee said. “You look at some of the teams they play, and they had a tough road. Both have what it takes, though. Woodstock has the pitching at the top of its rotation to play with anyone, and Etowah is probably the deepest lineup, 1 through 9, we faced all season.”
The improved play on the field can be attributed to the growth of Cherokee County as a whole.
As more families have moved into the district, the talent pool has grown and results have improved, and it is a trend coaches hope to see continue on the diamond.
“It’s really exciting,” Bradley said. “People are moving in left and right, and we’re seeing more and more talented kids. I think it’s a credit to the teachers and board members in the district. They’ve made it a special place where people want to come. It’s not just baseball players, but it definitely has helped.”