Stephenson had never won a state-playoff game until this season. Now the Jaguars are in the quarterfinals, the only DeKalb County public school still playing.
Only five of the 48 teams in all six classifications that that have made the quarterfinals, which begin Tuesday, are in the final eight for the first time. North Paulding and Walnut Grove are making their first appearances in the state playoffs. Veterans and Lambert had each made the second round before, but broke through this year to the quarters.
For Stephenson, twin brothers Bryan and Ryan Betts had big series in the second round. Bryan was 4-for-7 with two doubles and five RBI. Ryan had the game-winning hit in a 14-13 victory in Game 1.
The Betts brothers are seniors, but Stephenson is a junior-dominated team. The top three pitches are juniors – Marcus Young (7-1, 1.04 ERA in regular season), Tekwaan Whyte (5-2, 1.69) and Jordan Balloun (3-1, 1.85).
Whyte also is a top hitter. He’s batting .317 with seven steals and 10 extra-base hits. Junior Dexter Neal is hitting .329 with the team’s only two home runs. Senior Jalen Robinson batted a team-leading .380 in the regular season.
Here is an update on a few other teams still playing …
Greenbrier: The Wolfpack, the AAAAA runner-up last season, is Stephenson’s next opponent, and certainly considered the favorite. Greenbrier’s top two pitchers are junior Nick Sandlin (11-0, 1.69 ERA) and sophomore Connor Hogan (8-2, 2.07). Sandlin also is having an outstanding year at the plate, batting .379. Senior Chris Michals and junior Adam Sasser are having all-state seasons. Michals is batting .385 with six home runs. Sasser is hitting .405 with five homers and 10 doubles. They have 62 RBI between them in 175 at-bats.
Johns Creek: Pitching has been the main ingredient in Johns Creek’s advancement to the quarterfinals. Leading the way have been Charlie Hecht (1.19 ERA, 14 IP, 12 SO) and Gabe Moore (1.16 ERA, 6 IP, 8 SO). Nicholas Radivoj has won two games in 4.2 innings of relief. The team’s ERA in the playoffs is 1.78. Top hitters have been senior outfielder Chase Solomon (8-for-12, two triples, three doubles, one home run) and senior catcher Cody Hardage (6-for-14, three doubles, one home run). Johns Creek, which takes on Valdosta this week, can reach the semifinals for the second time in three seasons.
Milton: Star pitcher Dylan Cease is back in Milton’s lineup, but has a hitter, not a pitcher, as he recovers from an elbow injury. He’s 7-for-13 in the playoffs. Also hitting it pretty good through two rounds are Erik Peterson (7-for-13, one HR), Alec Miller (5-for-8) and Ryan Gridley (7-for-11, four walks). Milton plays Region 4-AAAAAA champion Kennesaw Mountain this week.
Parkview: Senior lefthander Mac Marshall’s bid for a perfect ERA through the regular season ended in the final game against Grayson last month when he allowed two unearned runs in a 5-4 victory, but he’s still unbeaten at 8-0 entering Parkview’s quarterfinal this week against Coffee. Marshall got his eighth victory in a 4-1 win against Walton. He allowed three hits over six innings. His ERA is 0.50. Switch-hitter Isiah Gilliam is hitting .358 with seven home runs, three in the playoffs. Gilliam is rated the No. 4 junior prospect in Georgia by Baseballscoutz.com.
Gainesville: The Red Elephants have won 13 straight games since a 4-1 loss to Loganville on April 4. Gainesville had hit 31 home runs entering last week’s second-round series victory over Sequoyah. Michael Gettys, who has committed to Georgia, had nine and was hitting 372. He’s also the No. 1 pitcher. His is 5-3 with a 1.25 ERA. Junior Michael Curry, perhaps the top catcher prospect in Georgia, has five home runs and is batting .378. The leading hitter, junior Luke Maddox, doesn’t have a homer but is batting .403. Next for Gainesville in the quarters is Starr’s Mill.
Valdosta: Seth Shuman has big games in each of Valdosta’s four wins in post-season. He hit a two-run triple in Valdosta’s 6-5 victory in Game 3 of the first round. Valdosta trailed 5-4 with two outs in the top of the seventh but got singles from Brennan Goodson and Craig Barry ahead of Shuman, who also was the starting pitcher. He also started in Game 1 and went seven innings, allowing one run, in a nine-inning, 3-2 victory. In the second round, Shuman was the winning pitcher in a 4-0 victory over McEachern and hit a three-run homer in the 10-8 victory in Game 2. Logan Stephens got two hits in each of the games against McEachern. Valdosta, which plays Johns Creek this week, is trying to make the semifinals for the first time since 2008.
Westminster: The Wildcats are known for their pitching, but four players are batting well over .500 in the playoffs. They are sophomore Rankin Woley (11-for-16, five RBI), senior Conrad Cornell (10-for-15, 4 RBI), senior Nelson Douglas (9-for-13, six RBI) and sophomore Will Benson (8-for-13, three RBI). The Wildcats are batting .436 as a team, scoring 45 runs in the four games, while giving up only seven earned runs (10 total). Westminster plays Westside of Augusta in the Class AA quarterfinals.