May 14—Cobb County is on the cusp of having Truist Park all to itself for the Class AAAAAA state championship series.
If Allatoona can defeat Houston County when their state semifinal gets underway Monday, Cobb will have two teams competing for the state's top prize on the Atlanta Braves' home field.
"That would be an awesome opportunity playing on that field, watching those guys compete," Lassiter coach Kyle Rustay said. "Whoever gets there will be fortunate."
Cobb County is already guaranteed at least one team playing at Truist Park when the championship series gets started sometime between May 24-26, with Lassiter making the short trek down Shallowford Road to play Pope in the other semifinal.
With Lassiter's victory over Valdosta, Pope's over South Effingham and Allatoona's over Winder-Barrow, it advanced the three Region 6AAAAAA teams to the final four. It marked the first time the county has had three teams in the semifinals of one classification since Walton, Pope and Harrison did it in 2016.
All three coaches said it was the competition within the region that helped them prepare for their current run through the playoffs.
"It's a huge deal," Allatoona coach Keith Hansen said. "We knew we'd have one of the toughest regions in the state with Lassiter, Wheeler and Kennesaw Mountain coming down from Class AAAAAAA and Kell coming up from Class AAAAA. You knew there were seven or eight teams in the region that could win on any night."
Allatoona (31-5) heads into its series with Houston County (29-6) on a 13-game winning streak, including three straight doubleheader sweeps to open the playoffs. However, Hansen said this will be the biggest test to date of the postseason, despite having beaten a Winder-Barrow team with the nation's best high school prospect in Brady House.
"They have a pair of Division I pitchers," Hansen said of the Bears' Brodie Chestnutt (Florida State) and Coleman Willis (Georgia). "It will be the best pitching we've seen outside of the region."
For Pope (29-10) and Lassiter (30-6), this will be the third time the teams have seen one another this season. The Greyhounds won the first two matchups 6-4 and 3-1, but if the semifinal series is anything like recent history, fans can expect to see a Game 3.
That has been the case for every Pope playoff series dating back to the 2018 state championship series against Allatoona. Nine straight times and 11 of the last 12, the Greyhounds have been pushed to the limit. Of those 11 series that have gone three games, Pope has won 10 of them.
"Our guys get really comfortable in Game 3s," coach Jeff Rowland said. "They are turning me gray because of it."
Regardless of outcome Monday and Tuesday, this will be the final series for the retiring Rowland as the Greyhounds' coach on the field named in his honor. He said, with the crazy playoff schedule, he has not had much of a chance to think about the finality of that yet.
"We've been so doggone busy," Rowland said. "I really haven't had a chance to think about it. I dwelled on it a little bit in at the end of the regular season, but we're still focused on the next series.
"I already have had so many great memories, but I'm going to listen to my wife. She said, 'Don't be sad it's over. Be happy it happened.'"
Another series victory for Rowland would put him and his team to win its fifth state championship in 13 seasons, and he would have an opportunity to do it on as big a stage as possible to represent Cobb County and put a fitting end to his career — and possibly a rematch of the 2018 final against Allatoona.
"It would be a chance to showcase what we have (in Cobb County)," Rowland said. "If the opportunity presents itself to have two teams there, I think it would be cool for the kids and the community."