Kelcey Butts has thought of the scenario often.
The Central senior steps to the pitcher’s mound in a state playoff game in front of a home crowd.
Surrounded by family and friends, Butts takes the ball and the resulting pressure in the opening game at Central. He performs well.
That dream can be realized today when the Chargers host Fitzgerald at 2 p.m. in the first round of the GHSA Class AA playoffs.
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“You just always think about what it would be like to play in a playoff game with your family and friends watching,” Butts said. “It should be packed. I think we are all excited about the opportunity we have.”
Central (21-2) enters the playoffs with its best record in at least 25 years, head coach Wayne Holleman said, and maybe even in school history.
The Chargers have won nine straight games since a non-region loss to Wilkinson County. They have climbed to No. 9 in the GACA coaches poll.
“Our guys have worked hard to get to this point, and they have put in the time to become better baseball players,” Holleman said.
Central built upon a valuable playoff experience last season to get to this point. The Chargers didn’t have an impressive playoff debut last year — they were swept by a combined score of 34-13 by Screven County — but they earned a chance to see what playoff baseball was like. They took that and ran with it this season, building confidence with each win.
“I think they got a taste of playing in the playoffs and learned what it takes to win there,” Holleman said. “I think that has helped this year.”
For Butts, getting to this point started when he picked up a baseball at 3 years old.
He played every summer and fall before getting into high school and has continued to play year round the past four years. But he also honed his game during his freshman and sophomore seasons by observing how the traditional powers and one-time region foes like Peach County and Henry County prepared and played the game.
“You always learn some things, and we had some really good teams with tradition that I tried to see how they worked,” Butts said. “Just how they prepare and get ready before games and carry themselves.”
Butts had a good junior season, but he has excelled as a senior.
The right-hander, who played quarterback and other positions as a do-everything football player, has gone 10-0 this season. The Chargers haven’t lost a game that he started, including a 4-2 win over co-region champion Howard. The Chargers lost their other game with Howard 10-0 — with Butts not pitching — and lost out on Region 4-AA’s top seed to the Huskies on run differential.
Butts plays center field when he’s not pitching, and he has been successful with the bat, as well. He said he’s hitting around .430 this season.
“I work pretty hard at my game, all parts of it,” Butts said.
Butts has received a considerable amount of interest from colleges during his successful senior season. He said his interest level has grown quite a bit from prior to the season and that he’ll probably sign with a junior college after the season. He wants to become an engineer, and he definitely has Georgia Tech on his mind.
“They’re the No. 4 team in the county, right? That would be great to end up there,” Butts said.
But he and the rest of the Chargers have a more immediate focus.
“We’re excited right now about our playoff chance,” Butts said. “I think we are more prepared than we were last year.”