Three-hour hikes up to Chickamauga to battle Region 6-A rival Gordon Lee is anything but new for the Bowdon High School baseball team and its fans.
This particular trip, however, has higher stakes with the winner giving themselves an opportunity to play for a state championship and the loser getting an early start to their summer.
The No. 8 Red Devils will engage the No. 4 Trojans this afternoon at 5 p.m. in a Class A Public state semifinal doubleheader with the if-game set for 3 p.m. on Thursday should the two teams split.
Up for grabs, of course, is a trip to Savannah for next week's state championship series, where the winner will face either No. 2 Irwin County or No. 6 Telfair County at historic Grayson Stadium.
"Our kids are excited to have a chance to play some more baseball and represent our community even further," BHS head coach Todd Eubanks said. "They're playing really good ball and are getting better each week."
Bowdon (25-8) elevated itself to the final four this past Friday by establishing a new order in the state, sweeping defending champion Schley County on the road in the quarterfinal series.
Having developed a reputation as the "cardiac kids" throughout the spring, Eubanks and his Red Devil ballclub actually found themselves in control of both contests versus the No. 1 Wildcats in Ellaville.
"It was a strange situation for us because normally we're the ones in the last inning trying to come back and win a ballgame. In the first ballgame, we were up very comfortably, but they came back and had the tying run on second base with two outs in the seventh. They ended up hitting a line shot that our outfielder caught. Even then, we felt like we were in control. It was just a matter of getting that out," Eubanks said.
"There was never a situation to where we felt like we were in danger of not winning either game. We were confident that our kids were playing well and we were in control the whole time. They had their minds made up that those were our games to win. We weren't going to be denied."
With the upset of Schley County now in their rearview mirror, "The Friendly City" ballclub is especially excited about the fact that the path to state championship will bring them back in contact with such a familiar foe like Gordon Lee (24-8).
Searching for a fourth state title series appearance in six seasons, the Trojans will be looking to duplicate the results of their regular-season matchups with the Red Devils -- a 6-1 victory in Chickamauga on March 6 before handing BHS a 14-2 bruising at W.C. Roop Field on March 9.
But that was over two months ago and Eubanks understands that both ballclubs have undergone tremendous growth since then.
"When we played early in the season, it was our second series of region play and with it we were both searching for our identities. We had kids on our team that are no longer with us now and we have kids starting now who were on JV at that point. Just like us, I'm sure Gordon Lee has kids that have stepped in and filled roles," Eubanks said.
"The fact that we're both in Region 6 tells you that we're battle-tested. We know what to expect, so it's not going to be any surprise for either one of us. You're not going be able to go out there with some major game plan that throws either of us off. Whoever executes and performs and makes the least mistakes will win and have a chance a chance to move on."
Bowdon has not defeated Gordon Lee since April of 2011, a fact that would make a triumph in this semifinal series all the more sweeter for the Red and Black.
From veterans like senior Coleton Pitcock down to freshmen like Andrew Messer, the BHS head coach is confident that this particular group can go up to the hills of north Georgia and come down with a ticket to Savannah in hand.
"They did beat us twice, but for our kids, those games are distant memories," Eubanks said. "We're 12-strong now and playing in the final four. Our kids realize they have a chance to advance and possibly play for a state championship."