July 18, 2018

Braves sweep Tigers to set up region clash with Cavs

(Temple, GA) — The Braves completed a three-game region sweep of the Tigers at Temple High Friday, dominating a doubleheader by winning margins of 12-1 and 10-0 to go along with a 7-2 win at HHS Tuesday.

Coach Trent Bianco and the Braves (11-10, 8-1) not only improved to a regular season winning record for the first time this season but the sweep also sets up a huge Region 5-AA Championship series versus arch rival Callaway next week.

The Cavaliers (17-6, 8-1) also pulled off a sweep of Jordan Friday in Columbus to set the stage for this week’s championship scenario in a best-of-three series that will begin at Callaway on Tuesday (5:30 PM) and end with a twin bill in Franklin on Friday afternoon (4:30/6:30 PM).

Senior Bryan Jones earned two wins in the region sweep of Temple this week (Photo: Jessica Gallagher/Times-Georgian)

It will be the second straight season that Region 5-AA has come down to a series between the two rivals with the Cavs sweeping the series in 2017 and the Braves looking to do the same this season.

With each team entering the final series with identical 8-1 records, tiebreakers will not be in play and the 2018 Region Trophy will go to the team that wins at least two games in the head-to-head match-ups this week.

Regardless of Tuesday’s outcome, a large Brave crowd is expected at Alford Field for Friday’s championship deciding doubleheader.

Bianco and his guys are looking forward to the big series with not only the region title on the line but state playoff seedings as well.

Region 5-AA will battle Region 6-AA in a best-of-three series during the first round of state April 26-27. Regardless of the outcome this week, the Braves would host the round one series and with a region title in hand could host at least the first two rounds.

“You always want to win a region title especially when you get a chance to go against a quality program like Callaway. Coach Hubbard and his staff do a great job year in and year out,” says Bianco. “At the very least we know we will get to host a state playoff series at home which is special. It’s good to see that we are playing well at the end of the year and our guys have put in so much work and practice time — this week should be fun.”

The fifth year Brave head coach says the work and progress of his pitching staff has been one of the big keys this season.

“We struggled throwing strikes early in the year but these guys have been getting ahead in the count of late and that’s been big for us,” adds Bianco. “With Bryan Jones coming back from Tommy John surgery a year ago and Tray Owens and Dale Thornhill not even throwing ten varsity innings last year we really needed this experience and to get these guys some innings during the regular season and they have all pitched well for us.”

The Braves bats have also come around with  six starters batting above the .300 mark. One of those guys is senior first baseman Davey Raines (.357 average) who Bianco calls one of his biggest surprises of the year.

“I think everyone on our coaching staff would agree that Davey Raines has been our top breakout player this season,” says Bianco.

“I mean you’ve got someone that’s only played JV the last couple of years and he could be in the mix for our team MVP this year. He is such a good program guy and such a great teammate — to see him getting his opportunity and taking advantage of it is something special to see. Davey just comes ready to work every day and he’s been such a team leader this year.”

Caden Raines and Tanner Collins are tied for the team lead in hitting at .383. Raines has consistently been at the top of the Braves stat leaders all season and Collins has really caught fire over the past few weeks of the season with 10 hits in his last 24 at bats including a 4-for-4 effort in Game two Friday with three RBI’s, three runs and a stolen base.

The other Braves batting above the .300 mark for the season include Jones (.377), Will Hammett (.327), and Owens (.311). Owens leads the team in homers with three while Jones is setting the pace in doubles (8) and RBI’s (24).

On the mound, Owens and Jones each lead the team with four wins and Owens is atop the leaders in ERA (2.80) and strikeouts with 42 in 45 innings of work. Senior reliever A.J. Head has been a stud during region play not allowing a single earned run and striking out six in 6.2 innings of work.

Several Braves had big efforts in Friday’s doubleheader win at Temple. In game one, Owens went 3-for-4 while Caden Raines had two hits and four RBI’s. Jones had two hits and another upstart Brave center fielder Collin Wright was 2-for-4 with two runs scored and three batted in. Freshman Leroy Marsh scored two and drove home two. Jones got the win on the mound tossing three innings and allowing just a hit and two walks. Davey Raines closed it out with two innings of solid relief work.

In a 10-0 game two shutout, starting pitcher Dale Thornhill got the win with four solid innings of work, allowing just four hits and a walk with no earned runs. Head came on to close it out in the fifth. Jones walked twice and scored twice to go along with Collins’ big four hit performance.

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