JEFFERSON’S Micah Carpenter notices that other teams tend to be a bit serious on the baseball diamond.
Not so much with the Dragons, though.
Jefferson, it seems, has found a way to have fun while rising to the top of the Class AA rankings.
“We all like to have a really good time,” said Carpenter, a junior pitcher-outfielder. “We’re all loose, and we can still get the job done without feeling like it’s overwhelming or anything like that.”
Senior outfielder Hanon Price is likewise impressed by the chemistry of this 21-3 Dragon team, which begins its pursuit of a state title Friday when it hosts Greater Atlanta Christian for the first round of the state playoffs.
“We back each other up,” he said. “We play as a team. No one person talks about their stats. It’s all a team effort, and that’s what I’m most proud of about this team.”
Jefferson hasn’t faced much adversity this spring in its 21-win season. But when it has, this close-knit group has been able to respond accordingly.
For instance, the Dragons won in their last at bat in the home opener against Oconee County and rallied from a 3-1 seventh inning deficit against Union County in mid-March for a crucial region win. It also won a pair of close contests against a very good Wesleyan team, as well as another close game against Union County three weeks ago.
“We’ve always come back from behind,” Carpenter said. “Union County — close games — we always pull it out somehow. We don’t really quit, ever. Everybody is ready to go every play.”
The result has been an 18-game winning streak to close the regular season, one that started way back on March 4. That success has landed them at the top of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Class AA poll, a position the Dragons have held since early April.
“Winning keeps coach (Tommy) Knight happy, so it keeps the practices short,” Carpenter said. “Sometimes we get a Friday off here and there, which is definitely fun.”
And Knight said winning 18 in a row is certainly a lot of fun.
“It’s a situation where we won a bunch of games in a row, and I really don’t think the guys have gotten complacent” he said. “They’re still working really hard.”
But now, the regular season is history as the Dragons look toward the Class AA playoffs. First up is Greater Atlanta Christian, a no. 4 seed out of the always-tough Region 6-AA. Jefferson will host the Spartans for a doubleheader Friday and for a single game on Saturday if needed.
GAC finished Region 6-AA play with a sub-.500 record (4-8) but did beat region champion Westminster, which is ranked no. 2 in the state, twice.
“I think we’ll be ready definitely,” Carpenter said. “They do come from a tough region. We played Wesleyan (a Region 6-AA team). We beat them, and Wesleyan has beat Lovett. Lovett’s pretty good. They’re all pretty good.”
Carpenter expressed confidence in the Dragons’ ability to shut down opponents with pitching and defense, and Price voiced similar assurance heading into this matchup.
“I’m sure they’re going to be a challenge, but I’ve got every bit of confidence in our team and how we’re going to play,” Price said.
While Jefferson’s attention is certainly on GAC, the larger goal is to win the state title. Price said that’s something that’s both understood and discussed amongst the team.
“Especially after winning it in football (in 2012), we expect to go deep in the playoffs, we expect to be a good team,” he said. “We talk about it and that’s what we’ve been working toward all summer, through every practice. That’s what we strive to do.”
But again, it’s a goal these Dragons have managed to handle with the right balance of fun and seriousness.
“We always talk about it and joke around about it,” Carpenter said. “When I say we joke around about it, we’re dead serious though. Definitely from the start of the season, from the fall in the weight room, to the start of tryouts and the first practice, we’ve had one goal in mind, undefeated in the region and win state.”
Jefferson vs. GAC
•GAC’s record: 12-11 (4-8 in Region 6-AA)
•Knight’s comments on GAC:
On the level of competition in GAC’s region:
“That region is tough. They’re over there beating the crap out of each other.”
On GAC being a difficult four seed to play:
“GAC is the fourth seed and they beat Westminster, who is the one seed, twice this year. So that tells you about how that region is. It’s tough all the way through … They’ll be ready. That will be a good fourth seed for us right off the bat.”
General thoughts on GAC:
“It’s kind of a scary game,” Knight said. “They’re good. They’re really good.”