With the number of early-season showcase tournaments growing over the years, some of Gwinnett County’s top high school baseball teams have found new places to test themselves against tough competition for the long haul.
Three local teams will travel across the state line to participate in one of the higher-profile of such events, the Perfect Game High School Showdown, this weekend in Hoover, Ala.
Buford (6-0) will be back to defend last year’s tournament title, while two-time defending Class AAAAAAA champion Parkview (7-1) and perennial AAAAAAA playoff participant Mountain View (2-1) will join them among 11 other Georgia teams in the field of 36 teams from throughout the Southeast competing in 12 different pools to qualify to the championship flight of three different brackets one the weekend.
And the coaches of Gwinnett’s representatives all expect their teams to benefit from such competition, as well as other intangibles, as the season progresses.
“We try to play the hardest schedule we can (each year),” Parkview coach Chan Brown said. “Playing in this (tournament) is something we’ve done several years now. There are lots of good teams to challenge us. And it’s good from a team aspect. We can do a lot of team bonding on the bus and in the hotel, and we can learn a lot about ourselves as a team.”
All three of Gwinnett’s teams, particularly Buford and Parkview, have already learned a few things about themselves so far this season, most notably with their pitching staffs.
The Wolves have been paced by sensational sophomores Dylan Lesko and Riley Stanford and a host of other strong arms to get off to a strong start, while the Panthers have been even more dominant on the mound.
In addition to the Division I college-bound senior tandem of right-handers Xander Stephens (Georgia Tech) and Miles Garrett (Vanderbilt), Parkview has also had a number of other hurlers step up, including junior left-hander Mason Brown and junior right-hander Jordan Lowery, who combined to no-hit traditional Class AAA power Blessed Trinity in Saturday’s Georgia Peach Invitational championship game.
Add in the contributions of others like junior lefty Graham Yntema and junior right-hander Ryan Spikes and Brown, and the Panthers’ staff has allowed just three total runs in the firs eight games, production that has gone beyond even Brown’s high expectations early on.
“Going into the season, we knew our pitching would allow some of our position players to grow up a little,” Brown said. “They’re doing that, and we’re playing good defense behind them. The biggest thing is, they’re making good pitches with runners in scoring position. And while we knew we could count on guys like Garrett and Stephens, … we’ve also had some surprises like Bryson Stripling, and Ryan Spikes has been throwing well.”
Mountain View coach Jason Johnson is a little less certain about his pitching staff, mainly because has less of a sample size to go by in evaluating his staff, and the rest of his team, for that matter.
A later start to the season than a lot of other teams, plus a few rainouts here and there has Johnson still trying to figure out exactly what he has, though he says he likes what he’s seen thus far.
And he echoes Brown sentiments in that he expects to learn a lot more about his Bears this weekend in Alabama.
“We’re supposed to play three (games) with Discovery this week (prior to the tournament), weather permitting,” Johnson said. “We deliberately scheduled a later start to our season for a few reasons. First, it gives us a little extra time getting all our players in from other (winter) sports. We had a couple guys come over from basketball, and of course, (Super Six selection and Georgia signee) Garrett (Spikes) was wrestling just a few weeks ago. Plus the weather was colder, … and we’ve lost two games.
“The only thing (the rainouts have) really done is he haven’t had as much an opportunity to stretch our pitching out. The’ve gone a good job getting out on the mound, and … we did have our guys throwing a lot of live situations (in practice). And our hitters have only seen live (pitching) once or twice a week. So hopefully, we’ll be ready to go (this weekend).”
The Bears have gotten some good work at the plate thus far from infielders Max Gault and Connor Claymore, which should add to a solid lineup highlighted by the likes of Spikes and outfielder Kenny Mallory.