CONYERS - The Heritage baseball team is back in the state quarterfinals.
But this year, the Patriots must win on the road if they are to advance to their fourth straight Final Four.
Standing in the way is Griffin, the No. 1 seed from Region 4-AAAA. The Bears have swept both of their first two state playoff series, beating Northgate (4-0, 11-4) and Statesboro (4-2, 14-2).
Heritage has also swept its first two playoff series, topping North Springs (8-1, 13-1) and Dalton (6-5, 6-2).
The Heritage-Griffin series, which begins at at 4:30 p.m. today with a doubleheader at Griffin High School, is also being billed as a showcase for some of the top baseball players in the state.
Leading the charge is Griffin's Tim Beckham, considered to be one of, if not, the best player in Georgia, as well as a top 10 pick in the upcoming MLB draft.
"He's the fastest kid that we've seen since I've been here at Heritage. He's fluid on the bases and he can flat-out fly," Heritage coach Casey Teal said. "His range is great - from deep in the hole at shortstop, all the way to behind second base. He's a got a great glove and a great arm, he can fly and gets better with the bat every day."
As a junior, Beckham batted .512 with nine doubles, six triples and six home runs. He drove in 39 runs and stole 20 bases. He put up very similar numbers his sophomore year, hitting .498 with six home runs, 22 RBIs and 18 stolen bases.
On the other side is one of the rising stars in Georgia high school baseball - Heritage sophomore Tyler Austin.
As a freshman, Austin hit .428 with eight doubles, 12 home runs and 35 RBIs. So far this year, the sophomore has slugged 18 home runs.
Still, Teal isn't looking at Griffin as a one-man team.
"We're not really looking at it that way because Beckham is hitting leadoff. Teams put him on, then two or three pitches later, he's standing at third," Teal said. "They've also got a big kid behind him, Xavier Randolph, who can hit and hit for power. Behind him, they've got probably one of the hottest hitters in the state in Telvin Nash. He's been tearing it up all year. And then there's their clean-up hitter, Greg Fietsam. Collectively, those four are the best four hitters we've faced all year - by far."
Teal said his team will need to be sound in all aspects of the game if the Patriots are to make it to the semifinals for a fourth straight year.
"We've got to play like we can play," Teal said. "We've got to be sound defensively and our pitchers have to throw strikes and change speeds. We'll try and limit their top four hitters and what they can do offensively. They're not just a one-man show. They have a combination of power and speed at the top of the order. At the bottom of the order, they've got the combination of batting average, speed and small ball. It's a good combination to have and they've a very dangerous lineup."
Brandon Evans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: Heritage at Griffin
Who: Heritage Patriots (26-4) vs. Griffin Bears (24-5)
What: Class AAAA baseball quarterfinals
When: 4:30 p.m. today, doubleheader
Where: Griffin High School