JESUP, Ga.---The Lakeside baseball team will play for its first state championship at home this weekend.
The fourth-ranked Panthers punched their ticket to the best-of-three title series with a two-game sweep of third-ranked Wayne County on Monday at Howard Bo Warren Field in the Georgia High School Association Class AAAA semifinals, winning 13-5 and 9-5 to advance to their first finals series.
"This feels fantastic," said Lakeside's second-year head coach T.J. Davis. "The biggest thing is these seniors have stepped up and filled some gaps and now they get to play for what they've wanted for a long time."
The Panthers (29-6), the top seed from Region 3-AAAA, will play host to Marist in the finals. Marist, which also won the first two games in its semifinals series Monday at Whitewater, is a No. 2 seed and thus must stay on the road to face the Panthers.
The championship series, which will open Friday or Saturday, will be a matchup of last year's quarterfinals, when Marist knocked the Panthers out.
"You couldn't ask for anything better than this," said Lakeside catcher Clayton Miller.
Coming into the semifinals against the Yellow Jackets (29-5), it was the Wayne offense that drew high praise for its potent attack. But on Tuesday, the Panthers outslugged the Jackets over the two games, banging out a combined 26 hits while belting six homers.
Miller and designated hitter Derek Russo were both 6-for-7 in the doubleheader. Miller, who hit for the cycle in the opener, ripped two homers and drove in five runs in two games, while Russo also hit a homer and had two RBI.
The Jackets did get a combined 20 hits against Lakeside pitching but failed to match the Panthers on the scoreboard as they couldn't produce the timely hits that helped them win their first six games in the postseason.
"Our guys got big outs when we needed them to stop the bleeding," Davis said. "They didn't allow them to string a bunch of hits together."
In the opener, the Panthers rode a 15-hit attack that included four home runs and a complete-game pitching performance by Jeffrey Stoner to rout the Jackets.
Lakeside couldn't have asked for a better start to the series as the Panthers scored six runs on four hits in the top of the first while sending all nine batters to the plate.