Randolph Southern: Don't forget about us

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

SHELLMAN -- Maybe it was the late payment on those batting gloves. Or the time they had to repossess the rubber on the mound?

But the way Randolph Southern's Andrew Bacon sees it, the Patriots just don't get any respect.

"I guess we have a low credit report,'' said Bacon, who leads the league in sarcasm. "We don't get credit for what we do.''

Sarcasm aside, the kids from Shellman have a point.

Just in case anyone forgot, these guys are the defending state champs. They won it all a year ago when they beat neighboring rival Terrell Academy in an all-Southwest Georgia final in the GISA Class A state championship.

And they would like to remind the rest of the state -- that until someone beats them -- they're still the state champs.

Bacon, who came over from Lee County this year, wasn't on that team, and even though Randolph Southern lost five starters -- and their coach, Tim Goodin, who left to coach at Southland -- there's enough on the diamond this year to make another run.

Yet, no one seems to notice.

"We're the baby school,'' said senior Alex Weeks, who started in the outfield last year and now pitches and plays shortstop. "We always get overlooked. Nobody ever expects us to win.''

Bacon is sarcastic. Weeks is to the point, and catcher Michael Ledford? He's the class clown, a tough-as-dirt catcher who handles the staff and the bat and keeps everyone loose with one-liners and line drives.

Michael (don't call me Mike) Ledford is hitting .400 and half his hits are for extra bases, including two homers. He leads the team with a .673 slugging percentage and 17 RBI.

Nothing funny about that.

This team can hit, and the Patriots may just be hitting their stride at the right time. They've won three of their last four, including a sweep in the first round of the state playoffs last week against David Emanuel. And if they win this weekend against No. 1 seed King's Ridge Christian in the Elite 8, they're right back in the Final Four.

Maybe then, folks will take notice.

"When we beat people everyone says it's luck. They don't give much respect to this team,'' first-year coach Seth Howell said. "We don't get a lot of credit.''

Howell's got enough pitching to make a run. Weeks has a 1.35 ERA with 45 strikeouts in just 31 innings, and Bacon has a 1.48 ERA and has fanned 67 batters in 47 innings, while walking only nine. He has a remarkable 0.915 WHIP, which measures hits and walks per inning.

The two aces combined to strike out 21 batters in the two wins against David Emanuel last week and Jon Floyd, who plays third and is hitting .426, pitched the final inning and struck out the side. That's 24 Ks in 14 innings.

Then there's Tanner Stone, another pitching option. He has 16 Ks in 16 innings and a 3.50 ERA.

Howell knows what he has on the mound and is quick to give credit to his pitching coach Otis Griggs, the Leo Mazone of Randolph County.

The Patriots have enough arms and bats -- just look at Weeks, who is hitting .300 with 15 RBI -- and they're hungry and appear to be coming together at the right moment.

"I think the team chemistry has been a lot better over the last few games,'' Weeks said. "At the beginning of the year, we knew we lost good players, and we knew we had to find some leaders to step up and lead the team. I think the last three games we've become closer. We're in the playoffs, and I think this is where we belong.''

It's been a long road back from last year. They went just 4-4 in the region, but that doesn't matter now.

"We lost five starters from last year and we knew it would be tough,'' Ledford said. "But we

knew we would have a chance (to repeat). Now we're in the playoffs. We just look at every game as the next step.''

The next step could be huge. If the Patriots, who play a doubleheader on the road today, get past Kings Ridge (11-3) they could face Terrell Academy once again -- but this time in the Final Four next week. The two are rivals in every way, and just knowing TAE is around the corner could fuel the Patriots. They have lost twice this season to the Eagles from Dawson, but split games against Crisp Academy, which won the Region 3-A race. All four teams from the region are still alive in the Elite 8 round this week.

"We just haven't played well against Terrell Academy,'' Howell said. "I don't think we have reached our potential, but -- outside of a loss to Terrell -- I think we've played well lately. We might be peaking right now.''

If Randolph Southern wins this week, the Patriots would be at home next week, which might give them an edge against their rivals. Both would have to win this weekend, but if they do, Southwest Georgia would have a rematch of the state title game.

That would be just fine with Terrell Academy, which wants a little revenge. And just fine with Randolph Southern, which wants a little respect.