COVINGTON - It's going to be a battle of top 10s in the second round of the Class AAAA baseball playoffs when No. 8 Heritage travels to Newnan to play No. 3 Northgate in the first two games of a best-of-three series starting today at 4 p.m.
Heritage (20-8) earned the trip to Northgate (24-3), who beat Forsyth Central 11-0, 9-1, with an 11-1 and 3-0 win over South Paulding.
If the Patriots are to advance to the quarterfinals they will have to find a way to stop a very balanced Vikings team.
"We need to throw strikes and play defense. I feel that if we do that and work the count, I know this sounds basic, but pick a pitch and hit it when we get the pitch," said Heritage coach Casey Teal. "That's a different atmosphere when you're facing someone that's throwing 88 or 89, touching 90, 91."
Northgate's top pitcher, Catlan Kendrick, has been clocked in the high 80s with his speed reaching up to 91 miles per hour.
Their other two pitchers throw in the mid-80s, but they have a good curve and change-up in the mix.
"I think there's one loss between the three of them this year. We've seen some similar (type pitchers), but every pitcher is unique anyway. It really doesn't matter," said Teal, "We've been preparing for it and hopefully our kids will get out there and swing the bat."
While Heritage junior Tyler Austin is known for his power and other teams tend to pitch around him, Teal is ready to make the Vikings pay if don't pitch to him.
"We're going to hit him leadoff. We have people behind him that can move him around. Offensively, we can do things to score when we get him on base," he said. "It's the same approach with our entire line up, we just have to get on base. Whatever it takes or whatever method it takes, we need to get runners on base. If we do we'll be all right."
But no matter how good Austin is, he is only one player and baseball is a team sport. If Heritage is to be successful they will have to rely on everyone on the roster, not just Austin or the starting nine.
"Everyone has got a role, even kids sitting on the bench. I can see that our bench is going to be important at some point during the game. The thing with that is that it's usually at the most crucial time. They know what our plan is going in, they know what we have to do so they go out there and play hard," Teal said.
Making Northgate such a formidable opponent is their deep pitching and their ability to put runs on the board. The Vikings have scored 258 runs in 2009.
While there is not a doubt of their ability, it is not something that Heritage has not seen this season having played Northside-Columbus, Lassiter, Cartersville, Loganville, Winder-Barrow and Madison County.
Of the six teams, Heritage has wins over four of them with all but Madison County still active in the playoffs.
"They were very similar (to Northgate)," Teal added. "They're solid all around in every aspect of their game. But it's not something we haven't seen this year already."
Manny Fils can be reached at email@example.com.