The Madison County baseball team will travel to Marist Friday to open the Class AAAA state tournament.
By Ben Munro
Madison County might be facing an Atlanta school it hasn’t seen in a dozen years in the first round of the state playoffs, but its brand of baseball should look strikingly familiar.
Raider head coach Charlie Griffeth said the Raiders’ 8-AAAA brethren Loganville and Heritage — both ranked in the top 10 — specifically come to mind when sizing up no. 6 Marist.
“We’ve got a chance,” Griffeth said. “They’re not the ’27 Yankees. It’s like playing Loganville or Heritage. That’s basically who we’re playing. They’ve got guys who can run well. Their arms on the hill aren’t as strong as those two clubs, but they’re better at throwing the ball where they want to consistently.”
Madison County (20-6, 19-5) last met Marist in the 1996 Class AAA quarterfinals and was beaten in three games.
The two schools also meet in the 1993 Class AAA semifinals and the Raiders lost that series as well.
The teams play a double header Friday at Marist, starting at 4 p.m. and a single game Saturday at 2 p.m. if needed.
“They’re solid as always, very athletic” Griffeth said of Marist.
The Raiders’ first playoff appearance in four years comes against a traditional power that boasts nine state championships, the last two coming in 2002 and 2003. Marist (19-7, 14-1), which won Region 6-AAAA title, just saw a 17-game winning streak snapped over the weekend by Columbus.
While Marist doesn’t overwhelm opponents with 90 mph fastballs and homerun derbies, Madison County’s first-round opponent is full of less flashy ways of beating you, Griffeth said.
Raider coaches scouted the War Eagles’ season finale Friday and made note of Marist’s efficiency.
Griffeth said that the War Eagles’ pitching staff thrives on finesse, not flame-throwing.
“They just try to get you out, not strike you out,’ Griffeth said.
Marist has an Atlanta Braves’ connection.
Raider Fans should be familiar with the name Leibrandt. Senior War Eagle left hander Brodie Liebrant is the son of former Brave Charlie Leibrandt, who won 140 games in the majors from 1979-1993 without possessing overpowering stuff. Like father, like son, Griffeth said.
“He pitches just like Charlie Leibrandt did,” he said. “He just tries to pick you apart.”
Offensively, Marist is full of hitters that get on base and run well. Griffeth points specifically to the top and middle of the War Eagle lineup, but warns that Marist has solid bats all around.
“They have a couple that they rely on,” Giffeth said. ‘Their 1-4 guys are their bread and butter, offensively. But the bottom of the order — you can’t them for granted.”
This meeting finds Madison County gunning for its first postseason win in five years. The Raiders beat West Lake in three games in the opening round of the Class AAAA tournament in 2003. Madison County then lost to East Paulding in the next round and was swept in the first round of the 2004 postseason by East Paulding.
Then came the program’s playoff hiatus from 2005-2007.
But this year’s Raiders, winners of nine-straight games, are enjoying one of their best seasons in years, recently polishing off a 20-win regular season, its first since 2004.
While the regular season was certainly pleasing, the Raiders can’t rest those achievements.
“Now everybody’s 0-0 and batting averages are .000 and everybody’s ERA is 0.00,” Griffeth said. “’Now it’s like, what can you do now?’”
Banquet set for May 18
The Raiders hope to still be playing the night they commemorate the 2008 season. The team’s awards banquet is scheduled for May 18 at 6 p.m. at Double Oaks Golf Course.
The cost to attend is $15, but players and coaches’ meals are funded by Diamond Club. Money must be mailed by May 12. Checks should be made out to Madison County Diamond Club. Payments may be given to or mailed to Terri Seagraves at P.O. Box 186 Ila, GA 30647
She can be reached at 706-789-2461 (home) or 706-296-3828 (cell).