And few would argue that when it comes to being competitive, the typical grouping of teams from Cherokee and east Cobb counties is among the best in the state.
Each season, the likes of Lassiter, Walton, Cherokee, Wheeler, Woodstock and Etowah battle for the four state playoff spots that are guaranteed to the region. This year, that group will also have to fend off Milton and Roswell — making those four spots even more difficult to obtain.
Etowah coach Greg Robinson is up for the challenge, but it won’t be easy.
The Eagles graduated seven starters, including most of their infield. Kevin Pettit, Mike Lanier, Parker Acuff, Jamie Thaggard, Brad Sansing, Timothy Yandel and Alex Fabian are among the departed players.
“We will be young defensively and at the plate,” Robinson said. “We are having some very good competition for those places in the lineup. We will play various combinations to try to figure it out and see who wins the jobs. We are looking forward to having some good pitching to carry us until we can get our sticks going.”
Seniors Tanner Shelton and Bryan White will highlight the returning pitchers. Shelton recently signed to play at Georgia Tech, while White will be moving on to UNC Greensboro next year.
Two other seniors, Joey Hume and Eric Brasher, will also pitch. Brasher was recovering from an injury last season and did not pitch as a junior.
Also returning is junior catcher J.T. Thomas, who started in each of his two seasons on the team, and junior Will Campbell.
“The rest of them are sophomores and freshmen coming up,” Robinson said of his lineup.
In addition to solid pitching, Etowah should also have good defense and good team speed.
“We will come along over time,” said Robinson. “I feel good about these young guys. I think they will take advantage of the opportunity that they have.”
Etowah reached the playoffs last season, but bowed out in the first round against Northview. Robinson admits that, with the addition of Milton and Roswell to the region, making the state tournament became more difficult.
“We added two outstanding teams to an already strong region with Lassiter and Walton and us and Cherokee and Woodstock and Wheeler,” said Robinson, who led Milton to a state championship in 2004. “So there are going to be good teams staying home this year. Everyone is going to have to play outstanding baseball to be able to compete.”
Milton won its region last year, while Roswell and Walton swept Etowah in their meetings. The Eagles split with Cherokee and Lassiter.
“We struggled last year at times,” said Robinson. “So we know we really have to bring our ‘A’ game. We have to throw well and bring good defense and have timely hitting in order to be good this year.
“But we anticipate being there right in the middle with the rest of the guys for a playoff spot.”
Etowah opens the regular season tonight at Creekview.