CONYERS - The Class AAAA state baseball playoffs begin today for the Heritage baseball team, which has drawn North Springs as its first-round opponent.
The Spartans, who finished fourth in Region 6-AAAA, are led by first-year coach Stephen Bengston.
"They've got a first-year coach, and he's done a very good job with the kids he's inherited there. He's getting the program going in the right direction, and there are a lot of positive things going on," Heritage coach Casey Teal said.
Teal also knows that a No. 4 seed can be deceiving in the always-competitive Region 6-AAAA.
"Region 6 is a very competitive region. (North Springs) went eight innings with Marist, and Marist is traditionally a powerhouse," Teal said. "They went eight innings with them and lost 5-4, so they're very comparable."
The Spartans have won five straight games going into the state playoffs and seven of their last 10 games. North Springs beat Lakeside-DeKalb, the No. 2 seed from Region 6 and Salem's first-round opponent, 3-0 in the regular season finale.
"Lakeside-DeKalb was the No. 1 team in the region going into the last game of the season, and North Springs beat them," Teal said. "The loss moved Lakeside to No. 2 in the region and bumped Marist up to No. 1."
But the Spartans aren't the only team with a head of steam going into the playoffs. The Patriots finished with a 22-2 Region 8-AAAA mark this season. But the two games that might have meant the most were losses.
"I think we picked it up the last few games and we turned the corner. Losing to Loganville and Salem late in the season really helped us find out a lot about ourselves," Teal said. "You never like to lose, but those two losses were very good for us. We've played well after that."
Teal said his team will need to be sound defensively and pitch well against a strong offensive team.
"They're a very strong-hitting lineup and they have the pitching and defense to go along with it. They've got some kids that bring a lot of firepower to their offense and can really hit the ball," Teal said. "They can hit, hit for power and they can run. They're just a very solid offensive team."
The Spartans have scored eight or more runs in 12 of their 19 games played this season.
North Springs is also a team that is enjoying a return to the state playoffs after a lengthy layoff.
"If I'm not mistaken, it's been 13-14 years since they've made the playoffs. They're going to be hungry," Teal said. "I'm sure they're going to come out firing on all cylinders.
"We've just got to do the same things and play the same way that we have all year. We can't get too up or too down. We have to be disciplined at the plate and get baserunners on. They have two aces, so we've got to be disciplined at the plate and lay off the offspeed stuff out of the zone and wait for a pitch to hit. Basically, it's no different than any game we've prepared for all year. North Springs does have a very good pitching staff. They're going to mix it up and throw a variety of pitches at us."
Despite the caliber team the Spartans will or will not be today when the two teams hit the field, Teal said his preparation has been business as usual.
"Things have pretty much been the same this week as they've been all year. We're going to treat every team the same, no matter who they are, and prepare the same way everyday whether it's Salem, Loganville, Greenbrier or North Springs. It's all the same to us."
Brandon Evans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: If You Go
What: Class AAAA baseball playoffs, first round
Who: Heritage Patriots (22-4) vs. North Springs Spartans (11-8)
When: 4 p.m. today (doubleheader)
Where: Danny Blue Field