CONYERS — Local athletes hope history will be able to repeat itself as Rockdale Post 77 tries to defend its title as American Legion state baseball champions on Friday at Alpharetta Post 201.
Even though Post 77 will enter as the No. 1 seed, Rockdale head coach Demarco Hamm said his players are used to being the hunted.
“We’ve been playing with the target on our back all season long. That’s just the nature of the beast when you come in as the defending state champion,” Hamm said. “We’re used to it so I think we’ll respond well.”
Even though the tournament starts today, Post 77’s first game will be at 7 p.m. on Friday as a result of being the top seed as they play the winner of the Canton/Leesburg game.
Rockdale has already faced Leesburg in a game they won 5-4 at the AFLAC Georgia Classic Tournament in Albany. However, they have not played against Canton — their first meeting was rained out and Canton forfeited the second time they were supposed to play.
Despite coming in as the top team, Hamm knows that his players cannot afford to let their level of play decrease at any point in the tournament.
“Baseball is a funny game; it depends on whoever is hot at that particular time,” he said. “So if your bats are not on that they have a pitcher that happens to be on, good pitching eliminates good hitting. Anybody can jump up and beat you so we have take each game one at a time and play it like it’s your last.
“You always have to watch out for Douglasville. Another team we haven’t played from down south is Albany. They can easily jump up and beat you and so can Loganville. Those are three pretty good teams that can get you at anytime.”
Averaging more than eight runs a game, Hamm is not worried about his team’s ability to hit the ball. Leading the way offensively are Keith Buckhault and Jake Wright, who were also on last year’s championship team. Wright is leading all batters, hitting just over .500 with Buckhault averaging over .400 at the plate.
“They’ve been there before and know what it takes. They provide good leadership and they’ve been doing it by example,” Hamm said. “Those two are our catalysts in our lineup.”
While various players on the team have the power to go yard, the real damage provided by the batters is their ability to find the gap and hit line drives.
“We have guys that are capable, like Cameron Ragsdale, Jake Wright, Zack Bailey and Musashi Briem, they can can put one over the fence in a blink on an eye,” Hamm said. “We collect a lot of hits in the ball game so we don’t count on it.”
While hitting has never been a problem, even back when Hamm was playing for former manager Jack Murphy, pitching, on the other hand, is a different story.
Rockdale was troubled by injuries to the pitching rotation late in the season. But those problems are behind them as just about everyone is healthy and ready to go. Post 77’s hottest pitchers heading into the tournament include Josh Smith, Casey Shubert, Ragsdale and Wright.
“Cameron is a power pitcher and he’s finding the strike zone. Josh is a crafty pitcher,” Hamm said. “His fastball picks up, he doesn’t throw slow by any means — mid-80s — but he stays at the knees and is consistent with the strike zone. Casey, when he’s on, has a lights-out curveball. It just falls off the table. Jake Wright will be another one on our pitching staff. He finally got healthy so he’ll be in the rotation as well.”
If Post 77 gets past their opponent on Friday, their next game will be a doubleheader starting at 1 p.m. on Sunday.