A sophomore infield and a freshman catcher who bats cleanup aren’t the typical characteristics of region championship team, but Milton (20-4) has turned a youth movement into its third straight first-place finish in Region 6-AAAAA.
The 10th-graders around the horn are third baseman Dalon Farkas, shortstop Dylan Cease (also the closer), second baseman and leadoff hitter Ryan Gridley (batting .385) and first baseman Jack Thompson.
Sophomores also occupy two spots in the outfield. Dalton Ewing is in center, and Alex Schnell starts in right or left and also pitches. Sean Brophy, a junior, is the old man of the outfield.
The freshman catcher is Lucas Herbert. He’s hitting .380 in the fourth spot.
‘’He’s not a freshman, he’s the real deal,’’ Milton coach Joey Ray said of his 15-year-old backstop. “He can throw with any of them. He’s something else.’’
Herbert also handles Milton’s chief asset – pitching.
Jason Richman (5-1, 2.11) has signed with Georgia Southern. Graham Officer (2-1, 4.00) has signed with Jacksonville State. Juniors Matt Phillips (6-0, 1.50) and Roswell transfer Payton Smith (5-0, 0.82) give the Eagles the region’s best staff.
Did Ray expect his team to win a region with this kind of youth?
‘’No,’’ he said. “We as coaches knew the talent potential in this group. I personally thought we would be in the mix for the playoffs because we’d get hot late and these sophomores would be turning into juniors by April. They caught on earlier than that.’’
Ray and his staff of Jeff Heusing, Glenn Mize and Kevin Rice have been together for five seasons. They’ve won three region titles, but not advanced in the playoffs. Ray won’t use his team’s youth as an excuse this season.
Milton has games this week with West Forsyth and Centennial before starting the state playoffs next week.
“As excited as we are about how young we are, we also realize we’ve got a really good pitching staff and the future could be now,’’ Ray said. “So forget a couple of years from now. We have the opportunity right now to be successful.’’