Written by David Mann
ALBANY - It’s been a long time coming.
The Darton State College Cavaliers will finally play ball this Friday as they enter the Gulf Coast 1st Pitch Classic tournament in Panama City, Fla.The first pitch, scheduled for 1 p.m., will mark a transition from four months of practice to a tough 2013 competitive schedule that includes 10 teams who placed in the NJCAA’s top 25 in 2012.
“They’ve been training hard since August 20,” Darton head baseball coach Scot Hemmings said of the Cavalier team. “They’re sick of practice. I’m sick of practice. Now it’s time to go fight. I don’t mean to offend anybody by using that word – fight – but a boxer trains all year for one night’s fight. That’s kind of how we compare it.”
The Cavaliers will first play the very talented Gulf Coast CC before playing Tallahassee CC at 3:30 p.m., Friday. At 1 p.m., Saturday, they’re up against Central Alabama, who for 8 weeks ranked No.2 in the NJCAA’s 2012 polls. They’ll face Tallahassee again at 3:30 p.m., Saturday, before returning to Albany.
And so the 2013 season begins for the Cavaliers, who hope to further the success of a record-breaking 2012 season and win the school’s first Region 17 baseball championship. From an early look at things, the talent and the depth are in place.
The Cavalier lineup returns a dedicated group of sophomores including All-American and Gold Glove winner Casey James, D-I signee catchers Davis Knapp (South Alabama) and Tripp Calhoun (Troy), and 2nd Team All-Conference shortstop Cody Wofford.
Also returning are redshirt freshman Brandon Sharpe and sophomore Kyle Conkle, who missed action last season due to injury. The Darton coaching staff expects Sharpe and Conkle to add some big time pop in the middle of the batting order. A pair of sophomore transfers – Kody Adams (Georgia State) and Nate Ferrell (Andrew College) – add big left handed bats for the Cavaliers too.
They should sync well with a promising pitching staff led by sophomore returners AJ Sunstrom (8-1,1.95), Andrew Crumbley, Brandon Goldsmith (redshirt), Conkle, and Ryan Good. Freshmen arms include Casey Moody (Spalding), John Harmon (Central Carrolton), Ryan McCrannie (Newton), Trevor Sams (North Forsyth), Davis Adkins (Crisp Co.) and Cameron Martin (Brantley Co.). Also, newcomers Ryan Knight (Andrew College), Chris Long (Columbus State), and local standout Cole Goodwin (Lee Co.) look to add depth to a very talented bullpen.
“Depth will allow us to have a better shot at the Region title this season,” said Hemmings, who is entering his second season as Darton’s head coach. “We’re not going to have to overuse people early. Hopefully that will get us through that late season grind.”
The 2013 Darton roster is already attracting attention, as Major League scouts and media crews have been steady visitors to the Cavalier ballpark this week. Hemmings said he expects around a dozen more scouts at the tournament this weekend, but he and the Cavaliers are just eager to play ball.
“We want to stay positive and focused on how we play. We’ll have to stay patient and not overreact to a loss or a win at any given point,” he said. “We have a tough schedule, but I’ve never been a coach who worries over wins and losses – I firmly believe in a tough schedule. It may not help you early, but it will help you in the end.
“Plus, I think it’s a lot more fun playing good teams.”