Davis Richards had a whale of a game Tuesday in Darton's win, going 3-for-4 with four RBI and was a home run short of hitting for a cycle.
ALBANY — Tuesday’s game didn’t mean much to Wallace Dothan coach Mackey Sasser.
It meant everything to David Richards.
The Darton freshman and recent transfer from Savannah State took advantage of a rare spot in the starting lineup and led the 12th-ranked Cavs to a 10-2 non-conference victory against Wallace.
Because the midweek, non-conference game was stuck right in the middle of Wallace’s tough Region XXII schedule, Sasser — whose Governors dropped to 17-22 after the loss — left his best pitchers in Alabama and started clearing his bench by the third inning.
The Cavs, who improved to 32-9 with their 11th win in their last 12 games, also gave a few starters some rest — opening the door for players like Richards, who hadn’t started a game since the opening weeks of the season.
Richards, a designated hitter from Stone Mountain, went 3-for-4 with four RBI and was a home run short of hitting for a cycle.
He admitted to being nervous before the game started, but a two-out double in the second inning that knocked in the game’s first run went a long way in driving away the butterflies.
“You get anxious, and you want to go out there and do your best,” said Richards, who will also get the start in both games of today’s doubleheader against Thomas University. “I thank coach for giving me the opportunity, and you just want to take advantage of the opportunity when you get it.”
Richards wasn’t the only Cav making the most of playing time on a beautiful Tuesday afternoon.
Starter Luis Florentino allowed just one hit and one run in five innings, and relievers Harrison McElheney, Nate Harris, Ethan Glass and Steven Williams combined to allow three hits and one run in four innings of work.
Parker Nix blasted his second home run of the season in the fifth inning and finished 2-for-5 with four RBI, and Kevin Manos extended his NJCAA-leading RBI total to 53 with a two-run single in the fifth.
There was a sparse crowd for Tuesday’s game, which had no implications on Darton’s quest to win a regular-season region title and host the region tournament — and few would have blamed the Cavs for taking the afternoon off.
But there was no letting up in a Darton team directed by first-year coach Scot Hemmings, who has led the Cavs to their first national ranking in school history.
“I wanted to find 24 guys who could play hard whether it’s a Tuesday afternoon non-conference game or the national championship,” Hemmings said. “We kept 24 guys this fall that play hard in every inter-squad, every game. It’s easy to get complacent. It’s easy to come out here and get sloppy. It’s easy to come out here and not produce, but these stats count just as much as the stats in a conference game.”
Coming into the game, Richards had just 21 at-bats, a .333 batting average and three RBI. He hadn’t seen much playing time throughout the season, but that didn’t stop him from tirelessly working, running sprints on the weekends, hitting every chance off a tee and spending extra time in the weight room.
“I just got to work hard,” Richards said. “Even if you are not playing, you still have to put that work in because you never know when you are going to get the opportunity. I just love playing the game. Baseball is my love, and I can’t just stop playing and stop working hard.”
Richards’ coach has taken notice of his work habits and said he had a “breakout day” Tuesday.
“He is a tireless worker and the type of guy who shows up early and stays late,” Hemmings said. “He is always working no matter if he is playing or not.”
Richards’ RBI double in the second inning gave Darton a 1-0 lead, and then the Cavs poured it on in the fifth inning with eight runs and nine hits off Wallace pitcher Ryan Arnold. The Cavs brought 12 hitters to the plate in the inning, and Richards had an RBI single and a two-run triple.
The eight-run inning was more than enough for Florentino, a freshman from the Dominican Republic who came to America in January.
“He had great velocity when he came in, and we made a few changes,” Hemmings said about Florentino, who is now 2-0 in four starts. “We have seen a decrease in velocity, but (Tuesday) was the best he has looked since he has been here.”
The Cavs will next host Thomas University today in a doubleheader starting at 4 p.m. and then will have nearly a week off before resuming region play Tuesday against Gordon.