The Frederica Academy baseball team will leave St. Simons Island on Thursday to make the trip to Macon for this weekend’s state championship series at Mercer University.
However, the Knights won’t be heading straight to middle Georgia.
Instead, they will first go to Douglas where they will practice at South Georgia State College before then going the rest of the way to Macon. The field there is similar in size to Claude Smith Field on the Mercer campus which is the site of best-of-3 series Friday and Saturday between Frederica and Trinity Christian-Sharpsburg.
Claude Smith Field is 330 feet down the left field line and 320 down the right field line. The fence in center field is 400 feet from home plate and the power allies are 370 and 350.
That means the field is a good bit bigger than Frederica’s home field which is just over 340 feet to center field. FA head coach Greg Roberts hopes practicing on a larger field will help get his team ready for the weekend series.
“It gives us the opportunity to hit and shag balls on a similar size field,” Roberts explains. “I’m hoping this can help us with alignment, relays and tracking balls.”
The Georgia Independent School Association Class 3A final series is set to open with Game 1 at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The second game of the series is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Saturday with a third game slated for 7:30 p.m. if needed.
The Class AA championship series will also be played at Mercer with the first game of that matchup set for 4:30 Friday afternoon. The second game is set for 10:30 Saturday morning with a third game scheduled for 4:30 if needed.
Both championship series will be streamed live on the GISA website (gisaschools.org).
Frederica enters the finals with a 22-6 record. The Knights have lost just once in the postseason, going three games with Valwood in their first-round series before sweeping both John Milledge and Tiftarea to advance to the championship series.
This will be the first-ever appearance for the Knights in the finals. They were eliminated in the semifinal round in both the 2013 and 2014 campaigns.
The Lions are 22-1-1 on the season and will be making their second consecutive appearance in the finals. Last spring, they lost to John Milledge in three games, falling 5-0 in the opener before winning 2-1 to force a third game which they lost 6-5 in extra innings.
This will also be the last chance for Trinity to claim a GISA championship as the school will transition into the Georgia High School Association starting in the fall.
The Lions have already knocked off two teams from Region 3 which the Knights won this season. They defeated Pinewood Christian in the quarterfinals before taking out Trinity Christian-Dublin last week in the semifinals.
“Trinity is a great team,” Roberts said. “They have a very potent offensive attack, a lineup full of guys that can hit. They play defense well and pitch well – exactly what you would expect from a team in the finals.”
The Lions are coached by Blake Austin who is in his first season as the team’s head coach. Austin played high school baseball in Georgia before going to Auburn as a catcher and playing professionally in the Atlanta Braves organization.
Trinity is averaging just over 12 runs a game for the season. Playing in a small home park, the Lions have hit a whopping 61 home runs this year and knocked eight out of the yard last week in their two semifinal games.
The larger field at Mercer might make it more difficult for the team to score via the long ball, but the Knights must still deal with a potent lineup.
“They have hit homers in a lot of parks,” Roberts noted. “They can really swing it.”
The Knights have the ability to win high-scoring games also, however. They are averaging right at eight runs a game, but have put double-digit totals on the scoreboard several times. They have hit 20 total homers for the season.
Frederica is expected to go with senior Trey Thompson on the mound in the opener. Thompson is 8-1 on the season and owns a 1.24 ERA.
Roberts said the Knights are undecided on their Game 2 starter, but Eric McCall (8-0) and Nic Dixon (4-2) figure to be the likely candidates.
The Knights aren’t sure who the Lions will throw in the opener.
“They’ve mixed it a time or two,” Roberts said of their starting rotation.
For what it’s worth, Trinity started sophomore right-hander Shep Hancock in the opening game in the semifinals. Hancock is 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds and also is the quarterback for the school’s football team. He is already getting interest from ACC and SEC schools in baseball.
Jack Estes, a 6-2, 200-pound senior, pitched the second game for the Lions in the semifinals. He plays first base when he isn’t pitching.
Trinity’s lineup also includes junior centerfielder Cal Smith who is already committed to Mississippi State.
Deke Jernigan leads the FA offense going into the championship series. The catcher and leadoff batter is hitting .484 for the season. His solo homer last week in the first game of the semifinal series accounted for the lone run in the game as Thompson tossed a shutout on the mound for the Knights.
Both Frederica and Trinity have played on their home fields through the first three rounds of the state tournament, but Roberts said he likes the neutral-site final and added that the Knights are excited about the opportunity to claim their first-ever state title on the diamond.
“It’s wonderful for the school, the team and their families,” he said of reaching the championship showdown. “As far as our staff, we are ecstatic to be playing in the finals, but there is still work to be done.
“I think Mercer is a great place to host the finals. We are excited to be playing there and think it makes for a more even finals.”