jma baseball state preview

John Milledge head baseball coach Andy Bonifay chats with his players during Tuesday’s practice ahead of this weekend’s GISA AAA state championship series against Dominion Christian. The Trojans will be trying for their second baseball state title in three seasons when they take on the Knights at Mercer.

Winners of 10 of their last 11 games, only two wins stand between the John Milledge Academy baseball team and the GISA AAA state championship.

In the same position are the Knights of Dominion Christian, a school based out of Marietta. The two teams will square off this weekend in a best-of-three series at Mercer University’s OrthoGeorgia Park for the right to hoist the trophy. Game one will take place this afternoon at 1:30 p.m. John Milledge will hold its graduation ceremonies tonight and Dominion will hold its commencement Saturday morning before the two teams return to Macon for Game 2 and a possible deciding game three. 

For the Trojans, this marks the program’s second state championship berth in three seasons, having won the title in 2017 by defeating Trinity Christian-Sharpsburg in three games. The current JMA roster looks far different than it did two years ago. The 2017 state champs had seven seniors that took up nearly every starting position during that title run. All that remains of that team are three contributors — twins Jacob and Jared Prestwood and Brandon Bellflower. The lefty Bellflower delivered the game-winning hit in Game 3 back in 2017 as a sophomore and came through for his team again earlier this week. He threw the final six innings of his team’s 7-5 game three win over Westfield in the state semis and was helped along by a five-run sixth inning that propelled the Trojans to the big win. 

Joining those three seniors in the quest for another John Milledge state championship is a cast of characters that have really clicked the last month of the season. JMA baseball’s 2019 record sank as low as 5-8 just after spring break, but the team has since obviously found a way to turn things around. The Trojans played their way to a Region 4-AAA championship before sweeping their way through the first two rounds of the GISA AAA state playoffs.

Among those who weren’t part of the team for the Trojans’ last baseball state championship is second-year head coach Andy Bonifay. His team knocked Dominion out of the first round of the state playoffs last season, winning game one 11-1 and game two 9-4, but he was quick to warn that the 2019 Knights are a different ballclub, having added five to six new players to the lineup.

The first name mentioned when talking about Dominion Christian baseball is pitcher Treyton Rank, who is just a sophomore but has already committed to play college ball at Florida State University. 

“He’s a power guy that’s going to try to throw the fastball by you,” Bonifay said of Rank. “We expect to see him in game one. He’s been their game one starter throughout the first three rounds, so we don’t expect them to change anything up with their starting rotation.”

The Knights hold a 19-8 record this season according to their MaxPreps page and were crowned the Region 1-AAA champions thanks to earning a 7-1 record in region play. Their playoff path has taken them through Valwood in the first round, Pinewood in the second round (series went to three games), and Tiftarea in the state semis, a series that also went the full three-game distance. Like John Milledge, Dominion had to wait until Monday to finish off its series at Tiftarea thanks to the storms that hit the state over the weekend. 

This week at practice, Coach Bonifay has made focus a top priority as his team prepares to run the gauntlet of events all scheduled near the close of the school year.

“This is such a busy time of the year with baccalaureate last night, honors night tonight, and graduation Friday,” Bonifay said Wednesday. “I’m not questioning the guys, but it’s about keeping them focused and making sure we’re mentally disciplined in what we’re doing.”

Practices have been light so far this week to give the guys the opportunity to recover from the grueling semifinal series that played itself out over three days and many long hours. Bonifay said his pitchers are all good to go, but remained tight-lipped on whether or not he would keep his rotation the same. 

What does the second-year head coach believe is working in his team’s favor as it approaches this weekend’s big series?

“I think we finally understand and are confident in who we are,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of doubt in one another, and that confidence has increased and increased. The guys have the taste of being successful now, which has only helped build that confidence. We just need to be in the moment and be who we are. The guys have matured so much throughout the year, so we need to keep that up and own the moment and not be shy.”

The best-of-three GISA AAA baseball state championship series is set to start at 1:30 p.m. today (Friday) in Macon. Game 2 is scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday, and Game 3 will follow, if necessary.

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