Wilburn leading Trojans into the postseason

Apr. 25—The 2024 John Milledge Academy baseball regular season ended very similar to how it started, which was with a thrashing of Brentwood.

The Trojans completed the regular campaign at 10-11, capped off by 10-0 win at home Monday over the War Eagles of Sandersville.

After battling arm issues earlier this season, JMA ace Cooper Wilburn hurled an eight-strikeout no-hitter in just his third time on the mound in '24. His perfect game bid was foiled only by walking one Brentwood batter and hitting another. A great play by senior shortstop Blake Bellflower on a slow roller to short in the second inning helped keep the visitors out of the hit column.

Wilburn and his .382 batting average also clobbered a sixth home run on the season with a no-doubt solo shot in the bottom of the second. He was 2-for-2 on the day with a double as well.

Known as "Texas" around the ballfield, Wilburn is the reigning GIAA Class AAA Player of the Year. As noted above, he's dangerous both with the bat and from the rubber where he throws high-80s into the low-90s. His impact was lessened while he waited for his arm to come to 100%, thus contributing to John Milledge finishing the regular season below .500.

It's a different story for the playoffs though as JMA head coach Chad Starley says his top arm is ready for the postseason.

"That puts us in a position to make a deep run," Starley said. "When he's healthy and on the mound, he's the best player in the GIAA. Whoever we do play is not going to want to play us knowing he's good to go."

Playoff assignments were doled out Thursday as the MaxPreps power rankings were finalized to determine seeding. The Trojans jumped from seventh to fourth in the final poll, meaning they have earned a first-round bye and will get to play their second-round series at home against either No. 5 Dominion Christian or 12th-seeded Lakeview Academy.

"Our guys seem to lock in when it comes to playoff time, so hopefully we can flip that switch," Starley said.

John Milledge baseball won state titles in each of Starley's first two seasons at the helm. There are some things the third-year head coach would like to see his team do in order to match those first two efforts. Starley pointed out little things that can turn into big things, like making the routine plays, getting bunts down in high-pressure situations, and applying scouting reports against opposing hitters.

"If we can make the routine plays and do the little things with Texas on the mound, we can make it back to Macon, for sure," Starley said.

This year's GIAA baseball finals are being played at historic Luther Williams Field, current home of the Macon Bacon.

Wilburn of course won't be able to throw every inning this postseason in trying to get the Trojans to the frying pan. Most state champions need at least two strong starting arms. The JMA head coach believes he has a solid No. 2 in sophomore Grayson Paradise.

"I feel really good about Grayson Paradise if we can get him some run support," said Starley. "He pounds the zone, but he has been on the short end of run support. If we can back him up, he'll give himself and the team a shot to win every time he pitches."

The proof is right there in the statistics that show Paradise is toting a 2.00 earned run average in 35 innings pitched, but his pitching record sits at just 1-4.

Wilburn, Paradise, and the rest of John Milledge's pitching stable will have some time to rest with the first-round bye. The second round, which will be the quarterfinals, begins Friday, May 3.