The state baseball champion in Georgia’s highest classification has come from Cobb, north Fulton or Gwinnett each season since 2003.
The team best positioned to break that stronghold this season is probably Luella, a 9-year-old school in Henry County that has averaged 21 wins since joining Class AAAAA in 2006.
Luella’s best state finishes during that time have been no better than the quarterfinals in 2010 and 2011, but this could be coach Andy Cooper’s best team. It is 13-3, ranked No. 3 behind Parkview and Etowah and led by Tennessee-signee Vincent Jackson, a pitcher and clean-up hitter. Luella was ranked No. 15 nationally in one preseason poll.
‘’We’re probably a little deeper in pitching than have been,’’ Cooper said. “It’s just a matter of swinging the bats at the right time. You still have to hit. But unless we commit mistakes, I don’t think people are going to score a lot of runs on us.’’
Only two of 16 opponents have scored more than three runs in a game against Luella so far.
Jackson, potentially a high draft choice, will pitch Friday at East Coweta, the third-place team in Region 2. Luella is 8-0 in the region and beat East Coweta 3-0 on March 6, when Jackson had 14 strikeouts. Jackson (4-0, 1.04 ERA, 40 strikeouts, 27 IP) throws only in the high 80s, but he’s 6-foot-4, which scouts like. He’s also a left-handed hitter.
‘’We’ve had a lot of scouts, even an assistant GM for a major league team,’’ Coooer said. “He definitely fits their body protocol. He’s not overpowering by their standards, but his body gives him the potential to be up in the 90s.’’
Luella’s No. 2 starter is Matt Kelly (3-1, 2.24 ERA), who has signed with Southern Union, a junior college in Alabama. The No. 3 is Kendal Hill (3-0, 1.40 ERA), who was missed last season because of a labrum tear. He’s also a college prospect.
The top hitters are Jackson (.386, 6 doubles) and four-year starter Chase Scott (.488, 10 extra-base hits in 43 AB), a third baseman who owns every school record for hitting except triples.
Also hitting well are John Goodman (.292), Reise mcdaniel (.333) and Eric Pape (.333).
Luella lost in the quarters last year to Parkview, the eventual champion and the current No. 1-ranked team. Cooper says there are some southside teams, including fourth-ranked Newnan from Luella’s region, that could break through.
‘’I think we’re becoming more competitive,’’ Cooper said of southside teams. “I still don’t think we’re probably as deep in the region as they are up there. They may see better competition day in, day out than we do, but I think the top three or four teams in Region 2 can compete with anybody.’’