TYLER, Texas — Atlanta is playing some of its best baseball of the season the last few weeks of the playoffs.
The Rabbits turn their attention to Gunter this week for the Region II-3A championship series and berth to the state tournament. The opener will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Mike Carter Field in Tyler. Game 2 is set for 6 Thursday at Nevada Community High School, and if a third game is needed, it will be played at 6 Friday at Nevada Community.
This is the first regional finals appearance for Atlanta since winning the state title in 1998, and first trip to the fifth round for Gunter since 2004 after five regional semifinals appearances from 2012-2019. The Rabbits also advanced to the regional semis in 2019 with a few of its current players.
"We've only got three guys — Cooper McClure, Kelby Smith and Jackson Warren — who had any playoff experience coming back for this team," Rabbit coach David Hooten said. "These guys have really developed, we've got good team chemistry and we are getting a lot of contributions up and down our lineup. On of the keys has been the bottom of our lineup being productive and getting on base, to bring up the top of our lineup with runners on.
"Our pitchers have thrown strikes, we play good defense and have done a great job with situational hitting."
In the rubber game of last week's regional semifinals, Atlanta (24-9) turned the ball over to Jackson Warren, who delivered a stellar two-hit performance as the Rabbits run-ruled Grandview, 10-0 in six innings. Grandview won Game 2, 8-1, after Atlanta opened the series with a 4-2 victory.
The Tigers (34-8) won twice, 7-3 and 9-3, after falling to Elysian Fields, 6-1, in the semifinal series opener last week.
Warren, Smith and Randall Mason each started a game last week for Atlanta. Depending on whom will be on the mound, Ty Graf catches for the Rabbs, Mason or Dex Ebarb will be at first, Warren or Smith at second, McClure at shortstop, and Smith or Ebarb at third. In the outfield, Nick Burden plays right, Kale Carpenter starts in center and Will Woodruff in left. Ebarb and Brennan Gaston help at designated hitter.
"Gunter's pitchers pitcher really well and they play good defense behind them," Hooten said. "Their ace had a streak of 55 scoreless innings snapped by Elysian Fields last week. Offensively, they're not going to tear the cover off the ball. They're good about getting runners on and manufacturing runs. I don't think they score as many runs as the last two teams we've faced in the playoffs (Grandview and Harmony)."
Sophomore Isaac Villanueva is the Tigers' ace but took the loss in Game 1 last week. Riekkhan Bostick earned the win in the rubber game, and freshman Cade Dodson earned the Game 2 win in relief of starter Cooper Wade.
The 3A state semifinals will be at 9 a.m. and noon on Friday, June 11, and the championship game is set for 9 a.m. Saturday back at Dell Diamond.