Heritage baseball coach Casey Teal couldn't help but laugh.
He was asked to gauge the strengths of Greenbrier and Marist heading into today's Class AAAA state championship.
He assessed coaching, defense, hitting, intangibles and overall pitching. He snickered halfway through it.
"People will think I'm crazy," Teal said. "I give Marist the edge in every area but one. They've got most all the check marks. But I still think Greenbrier will win. Marist doesn't have a pitcher like (Nolan) Belcher. He'll win them that first game and they can't match Greenbrier's lineup."
Teal thinks the Wolfpack (33-1) will keep Marist (23-11) from winning its fifth consecutive road playoff series thanks to the way they swing the bat.
"That one clear edge is a big one for Greenbrier," Teal said. "I'd give them two check marks for their lineup, one through nine, and a clear edge in that one."
Heritage (28-6) was one of four teams that made it to the quarterfinals of the Class AAAA playoffs who faced both teams this year. North Forsyth (27-6) was Greenbrier's only loss. Etowah (22-13) and Heritage beat Marist.
Evans coach Ricky Beale saw Marist in the quarterfinals. Marist came to Evans and swept the Knights in two games. Beale pointed to the middle of the Marist infield as a major factor. Senior shortstop Jason Garofalo is expected to walk on at Georgia Tech this fall.
"The shortstop is a game-changer for them," Beale said. "He made some unbelievable plays on ground balls and double plays. He's very smooth and fluid. He's also their leadoff man, and he puts the ball in play. He looks like the heart and soul of the team."
A majority gave the coaching edge to Marist. It's more of a gesture of respect to a 14-year major league veteran and a one-time Atlanta Brave than a slight to Greenbrier's coaching staff.
"Unless Greenbrier has a Charlie Leibrandt of their own hiding on the bench I've got to give the coaching edge to Marist," Etowah coach David Childress said. "It's hard to match that."
Teal said Leibrandt's reputation for picking up a stray sign or a called pitch is so well-respected he used four different sets of signals to relay on-field instruction to his players in the semifinals.
The intangibles factor went to Marist despite Greenbrier's home-field advantage and the fact Williams is in his final year with the team. The Eagles have won every series on the road, and their offense seems tailor-made to survive against elite pitching.
"Marist will scrap and bunt and do whatever it takes to get guys on and over," Teal said. "They know how to manufacture up some offense. They do all the little things very well."
Greenbrier was the universal pick to claim its first state title in Class AAAA and its first state baseball title since beating Marist in three games in 1999.
"I expect a great series, but I've got to say Greenbrier in two," North Forsyth's Jim Cahill said. "That team just swings the bats so much better, and its top two pitchers are as good or better than anything Marist has."
WHO HAS THE EDGE?
Four playoffs teams have faced both Greenbrier and Marist this year. Etowah, Evans, Heritage and North Forsyth all made it to at least the quarterfinals of the Class AAAA playoffs. North Forsyth was the only team to beat Greenbrier this year. Etowah and Heritage also beat Marist. Here's how each coach breaks down the Class AAAA championship.
|PREDICTION||Gbrier in 3||Gbrier in 2||Gbrier in 2-3||Gbrier in 2|