Barons seeded 3rd in upcoming GACC baseball tournament

The Georgia-Alabama-Carolina Conference is arguably the toughest baseball conference in the NAIA. This year, four teams were in the running to win the highly competitive conference right up until the last week of play.

Brewton-Parker College head baseball coach Chad Parker had his team in the hunt, but the Barons (15-9 GACC, 25-17 overall) were unable to get a sweep in their last series and ended up in fourth place.

Two conference’s two Alabama teams, Auburn University Montgomery (17-7, 35-18) and Faulkner University (17-7, 37-15), got sweeps in their final conference series and ended up sharing the GACC baseball title.

Tournament host North Georgia College and State University (16-8, 44-14), which entered the weekend tied with AUM and Faulkner, lost one game and finished third.

However, Brewton-Parker will go into the conference tournament, which starts Wednesday in Dahlonega, as the third seed because AUM -- which won the tie-breaker and received an automatic bid to the NAIA Region XIII tournament -- decided to skip postseason conference play to rest and get ready for the region.

“AUM has a lot of injuries, and they are doing the right thing for themselves by skipping the GACC, but we will certainly miss them,” Parker said. “If they were there, as conference regular season champions, everyone would be gunning for them.”

Thus the No. 3 Barons are slated to play No. 6 seed Shorter College (8-16, 18-29) in first-round play Wednesday at 1 p.m.

“We are going in it to win it,” said Parker, whose plan is to throw everything the Barons have into each game. “There is no sense holding anything back. We can rest all summer.”

Therefore, senior right-hander Jason Halstead of Carterville, Ill., who leads the Barons pitching staff with a 4-0 record and 2.32 ERA, is slated to start on the mound for Brewton-Parker in the opening game. Junior right-hander Ashley Hooks (3-5, 5.18 ERA) of Swainsboro will start the second game.

If the Barons defeat Shorter, a team they swept March 5-6, they will play at 4 p.m. Thursday against the winner of Wednesday’s 4 p.m. game between No. 2 seeded North Georgia and No. 7 Georgia Southwestern State University (7-17, 21-32). The Brewton-Parker/Shorter loser plays Thursday at 10 a.m. against the North Georgia-Georgia Southwestern loser.

The championship semifinal is at 4 p.m. Friday, with the consolation semifinal at 1 p.m. Saturday and the championship game at 4 p.m. If a second title game is needed, it will be Sunday at 1 p.m.

As the tournament progresses into the semifinals and beyond, Parker can call on hard-throwing junior left-hander Trae Wiggins (4-5, 7.62 ERA) of Stockbridge; junior right-hander Andrew Gernatt (3-2, 4.07 ERA) of Marietta; sophomore right-hander Justin Dover of Cartersville (2-0, 2.45 ERA); and senior right-hander Brent Kennedy (5-1, 3.15 ERA) of Baxley to get the job done.

The Barons, who lead the conference in stolen bases with 107, will continue to play aggressive baseball. They will rely on the top of the order to do the running, including freshman Randy Jo Griffin of Guyton (15 stolen bases) junior Chris Brown of Bowden (nine stolen bases) and junior Johnny King of Teutopolis, Ill., who has pilfered 41 bases on his own.

The job of bringing these runners home will continue to fall on the middle of the order including junior Jeremiah Barrow (41 RBI) of El Dorado, Ill., Dover (25 RBI), sophomore Madison Herrin (19 RBI) of Waynesville, Hooks (17 RBI) and senior Dale Brunett (13 RBI) of Mountain Home, Idaho.

Parker also expects timely hits from other key players who have contributed all year including senior Dax Mezo of Herrin, Ill., junior Justin Sapp of Cochran and junior Jonathan Davis of Savannah.

“We would love to put a cap on an outstanding season by winning the tournament,” said Parker, “our seniors Brunett, Halstead, Kennedy, and Mezo deserve to end on a high note.”