The Gladiators (15-5 overall, 8-1 in 6AAAAAA play) are two full games ahead of the Longhorns (14-6, 6-3) with five games to play and can lock up the No. 1 seed in the state playoffs when the two teams meet again next Wednesday.
“Getting the No. 1 seed is always big,” said Johns Creek baseball coach Billy Nicholson. “It gives you a chance to host a playoff series and our student body and fans have been awesome this year in their support [at home games].”
A year ago Johns Creek rode a No. 1 seed deep into the Class AAAA playoffs, sweeping their first three opponents at home before falling to Loganville on the road in the state semifinals.
Returning nearly every player from the 2012 Final Four team, expectations were sky-high when the Gladiators returned to the diamond this spring, and to date, Johns Creek has yet to disappoint.
Behind a pitching staff that sports a team earned run average of 1.99, the Gladiators knocked off state powers Milton, North Gwinnett and Loganville in non-region play, had a strong showing against some of the best teams in the Southeast over spring break, and opened 6AAAAAA play with seven straight victories.
“Our pitching has been outstanding,” said the fourth-year Johns Creek coach. “Any time you are holding opponents to around two runs you know you have a chance to win and [pitching] coach Jim Poole deserves all the credit for that.”
Johns Creek’s pitching staff is led by five pitchers with an ERA under three: Brandon Gold (2-1 record with a 1.46 ERA), Gabe Moore (6-1, 2.03), Matthew Gorst (4-0, 2.19), Charlie Hecht (1-0, 1.95) and Connor Jones (2-2, 2.51).
But it hasn’t been all about pitching as Gorst (.455 batting average), Gold (.480), Skye Overton (.413), Justin Friend (.481) and Justin Mihalik (.323) lead an explosive offense that is scoring over nine runs per game in region play — giving Nicholson a well-rounded team that can make an even deeper state playoff run than they did a year ago.
“The chemistry on this team is unlike any team I have ever coached in my career,” he said.
“This is a special group who really enjoy playing the game, enjoy being around each other and we are hoping to go out on top.”
The Gladiators will play at West Forsyth tonight and host North Forsyth on Friday. Regular season play will wrap up next week with games against Alpharetta (Monday), Lambert (Wednesday) and Chattahoochee (Friday).
The Class AAAAAA state playoffs commence May 3.