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Rejuvinated Cavaliers sweep Stallions in twinbill

Photo by Scott Chancey

Photo by Scott Chancey

ALBANY -- Darton's hot, red hot.

Honest.

The same Darton baseball team that had all those problems early in the season has suddenly become one of the hottest teams anywhere.

Just ask Abraham Baldwin, which was promptly swept out of Albany this weekend by a Darton team that scored 34 runs and pounded out 44 hits in three games.

The Cavaliers scored 18 runs Friday and then had no trouble Saturday afternoon taking both ends of a doubleheader, beating ABAC, 8-2, in the opener and, 8-1, in the seven-inning nightcap.

"The difference is our pitchers have finally decided to step up,'' said Jake Smith, who tossed a one-hitter in the nightcap. "We've been hitting the ball all year.''

The hits just keep coming -- and so do the wins. Darton has now won six in a row and nine of its past 10 games.

"They are really playing well right now,'' said ABAC coach Steve Janousek, whose team is 18-25 and 3-12 in the conference. "They played a really tough schedule early and now it's paid off. Darton probably played the toughest schedule in the conference.''

That's Darton's age-old dilemma. Is it worth it to play better competition and possibly lose early so your team peaks in the stretch?

"Lots of people argue with me about that,'' said Darton coach Glenn Eames, who looks pretty smart lately for loading up Darton's early schedule with powerhouse teams. "They say you have to learn how to win, but (when you play better competition) it helps you learn something about your team, and that helps you when you get to conference.''

Eames has also looked pretty smart on the chessboard as well. He has made some moves lately that have changed the look at Darton.

Eames moved Drew Shields from second to third and made third baseman Erick Gaylord his DH. That allowed Eames to start Ricardo Barbosa at second base, a move that has helped ignite an already potent lineup.

"Barbosa has been on fire,'' Eames said.

Just look at Barbosa's weekend. He went 8-for-13 against ABAC, including a 3-for-4 game in the nightcap on Saturday. He drove in a couple of runs with clutch RBI singles and scored once.

"I was really happy to get the chance to start,'' said Barbosa, who is hitting over .400. "I knew I could play if I just got the opportunity.''

Barbosa had an even better reason to have a big weekend. His family made the trip from Puerto Rico to see him play this week. They saw a Darton team (18-22 and 9-6 in conference) that is not only playing better, but playing with a new confidence.

"I think we expect to win every time we play,'' said Darton first baseman Tagg Lanier, who went 4-for-9 with a double and three RBI in the doubleheader, and also homered this weekend against ABAC.

"We certainly expect it to continue as long as our pitching stays this way,'' Lanier added. "Our pitchers are stepping up. Earlier, we would get behind in games and be in back-and-forth games, and there is more pressure when you feel you have to score.''

The moves Eames made on the mound are bigger than the ones he made in the infield. He took one of his top prospects, Kevin Bibler, and made him a starter. Bibler was Darton's closer, but Eames said after losing a series to Gordon College on March 19-20, he decided to make the change.

"We were swept and Bibler didn't get on the mound,'' Eames said. "That's when I decided to make him a starter. He's 3-0 since.''

Eames said the other change in pitching was simply the schedule.

"At the beginning of the season you are using five and six pitchers, but when you get into conference play you're playing a three-game series every week, so you can line up your pitchers.''

Darton's new lineup is Bibler followed by Brandon Swann, who went five innings and gave up just one run on four hits while striking out three in the first game on Saturday. Eames likes to see Swann go five or six and then go to Travis Morris in releif. That's just what he did Saturday, and the two combined to allow just two runs. Smith is the third man in the 1-2-3 rotation.

Smith looked shaky early, walking five in just three innings, but he gave up just one hit, an opposite field, two-out single to Colby Ralston in the third. Smith retired 12 of the next 14 and finished with four strikeouts.

Smith had plenty of help. Freddy Garay, John Duran, and Lanier all had RBI singles, and Darnell Duckett blew the game open with a two-out, bases-loaded triple that capped a four-run fifth inning.

Gaylord went 3-for-4 with a double and two-run homer, and Duran went 3-for-4 with a double and RBI in the first game. Shields doubled in both games, and ended the day with a brilliant play at third base diving and then throwing out Ikaika Anderson to end the game.

"We're playing very good defense,'' Eames said. "And that's the kind of play (Shields' game-ending play) that happens when you're winning.''