Towne Lake archrivals Etowah, Woodstock meet today for sport’s ultimate prize
Gwinnett Daily Post – Karl L. Moore
Woodstock’s march into the Class AAAAAAA state championship series has been bolstered by a strong pitching staff that includes Brant Hurter.
The stakes have never been higher as the Woodstock and Etowah baseball teams prepare to begin the Class AAAAAAA state championship series with a doubleheader tonight in Rome.
Woodstock (26-15) and Etowah (26-16) are each looking for their first state championship, and while the series carries great historical significance for the county, coaches say it is important to stick with what got them there.
“At this stage of the game, you can’t get caught up on who you’re facing or the magnitude of the game,” Etowah coach Greg Robinson said. “You just try to slow it down, play good baseball. Everybody is extremely excited. I just want to keep everyone focused on the game.”
Woodstock got the better of the season series, winning two of three matchups. All three games were decided by eight or more runs.
Both teams have been playing much better since the playoffs began, though, particularly on the mound, setting the stage for what could be a tight, low-scoring series.
“We have a lot in common,” Woodstock coach Jeff Brown said. “We have a lot of faith in our pitching. That’s how it’s been for us all year. They’re the same way, though. They have a few guys who can go out there and compete on the mound every game, so we need to make sure we’re getting the most of our at-bats.”
Both teams come into the series with a trio of starting pitchers who have elevated their performances in the postseason.
For Woodstock, Brant Hurter, Jared Staples and Josiah Siegel have each thrown shutouts during the playoffs, while Ethan Underwood, Nick Torres and Andrew Keene have done the same for Etowah.
“Both teams have had great playoff runs against some outstanding programs,” Robinson said. “I think teams that progress this far have pitched well and taken advantage of opportunities. We know Hurter, Staples and Josiah will pitch well. Hopefully, we can match them on the mound and take advantage of anything they give us.”
Though pitching has been the strength of both teams, both have also shown the potential to put runs on the board.
Led by Drew Waters and Andrew Keene, Etowah has topped 10 runs twice this postseason, while being held under three runs just once.
Woodstock has found an offensive star in catcher Caleb Bartolero, who has hit three home runs in the playoffs to complement the consistency provided by Nolan Tressler, Brennan Milone and Spencer Keefe at the top of the lineup.
“We’ve been swinging the bat pretty well,” Brown said. “Etowah has some guys who can hurt you, so we need to keep it up. I think we’ve settled into a routine over the last four or five weeks, getting used to the playoff schedule.”
With both teams peaking, the series could come down to which team can limit its mistakes the most.
Defense has been a key to both teams’ playoff runs, but playing in a minor league ballpark with the pressure of a state championship can change things. Robinson said whoever handles those changes better will come out on top.
“You try not to create opportunities defensively for the other team,” said Robinson, who led Milton to a state championship in 2004.” We just have to throw strikes and make plays. When runners get on, you have to hold them and take one out at a time. Make the routine play. That’s what it comes down to.”