Veterans looking to ride senior-led pitching staff to state title

The Warhawks have won back-to-back region championships thanks to their improvement on the mound this season./(Cam Gaskins, WGXA)

KATHLEEN, Ga. -- Ever since the school's first season, the Veterans High School baseball team has been known for its offense. The Warhawks won five region championships in their first seven seasons as a program, largely in part because of the team's hitting.

This year, though, they knew the bats weren't going to carry the team.

"We knew coming out of the gate that our pitching staff was going to be the strength of the team," head coach David Coffey said. "And I think that's proven to be true."

Veterans is 20-7 so far this season, its seventh straight 20-win season. The pitching staff has been the biggest reason why.

"It's not just one 'number-one guy,'" senior Daniel Hawthorne said. "We've got three of them. So it's just nice going out there and thinking 'Okay, I've got this under control.'"

The Warhawks are led by a three-man rotation with Ben Gibbs (1.41 ERA), Hawthorne (2.06 ERA), and Cole Hooks (2.28 ERA) on the mound. The three starters have combined for 135 strikeouts as a staff.

The bullpen for Veterans is anchored by Derek Wylie, who owns a 39/8 strikeout-to-walk ratio on the mound this season.

With a doubleheader sweep over region opponent Thomas County Central last week, Veterans claimed its second straight region championship, and its sixth in the last eight seasons. But the Warhawks aren't content with just winning their region anymore.

After losing in two Final Four appearances and one Elite Eight appearance in the last three years of the state playoffs, the Warhawks are determined to get over the hump this year.

That starts with their pitching.

"We're ready go to," Gibbs said. "We're just ready to get over the hump this year."

It doesn't seem to matter who the Warhawks throw out on the mound for any given start. They all have the confidence in each other to get the job done.

"We all have trust in one another, and that's the best thing," Hawthorne said. "Because I can look at Ben and Cole and say, 'This is going to be an easy win.'"

If you ask head coach David Coffey what impresses him most about his improved pitching staff, the stats are one of the last things he turns to.

"I've been more impressed with the leadership," Coffey said. "It's been the best leadership out of any group I've had so far. And I think that's really paying dividends and doing very well for the team."

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