Darton baseball program begins new era today

Former Andrew College baseball coach Scott Hemmings takes over the program at Darton, which is coming off a 20-33 season. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

Former Andrew College baseball coach Scott Hemmings takes over the program at Darton, which is coming off a 20-33 season. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

ALBANY — A preseason meeting with athletic director Mike Kiefer was all first-year baseball coach Scot Hemmings needed to understand the atmosphere at Darton College.

“When your A.D. brings you in and asks you, ‘What can I do for you to be successful?’ That’s huge,” said Hemmings, who coached at Andrew College in 2006 and 2007 and at Central High School in Columbus from 2007 to 2011. “This is the first job I have had where from the top to the bottom, it’s committed to excellence. They give you the resources, facilities and scholarships, and the president and athletic director are totally committed to winning around here.”

And Hemmings has plenty of plans for success in his first year, which kicks off today in Panama City, Fla., against Wallace State Hanceville. The Cavs then turn around and play two more games in Panama City — Saturday against Gulf Coast Community College and Sunday against Central Alabama. It’s a trio of tough games that exemplify a tough schedule for the Cavs — but that’s exactly how Hemmings wants it.

Darton to hold meet-and-greet event

ALBANY --- Hemmings is inviting area youth to enjoy a day of baseball Feb. 11 in the inaugural “Kick off the Spring Camp,” which gives boys ages 5-13 an opportunity to meet the entire coaching staff, players and alumni from 1-4 p.m.

The camp costs $35 and includes a snack, drinks and a day with the Cavs baseball team.

Space is limited to the first 100. To register, go to: www.cavs.darton.e...

“I don’t care about our overall win-loss record in the (pre-region) schedule,” Hemmings said. “We are going to play the toughest schedule in the entire conference, and I want our freshmen to understand college baseball and that the one mistake you make is the one mistake that is going to get you beat.”

Speaking of freshmen, the Cavs have a bunch this year — 20 on a 28-man roster, to be exact. The only returners are outfielders Parker Nix and Kevin Manos, second baseman Bryant Alonso, and pitchers Harrison McElheney, Ethan Glass and Nate Harris.

Last year the Cavs finished with a 20-33 record under longtime coach Glenn Eames, who started the program from scratch 16 years ago but retired after last season. Eames, who began the Darton program in 1995, led the Cavs to a second-place finish in Region XVII in 1999 and was named the region’s Coach of the Year in 2005. He was also instrumental in constructing Cavalier Field and an indoor batting cage.

Darton lost several key players from last year’s squad, including 2010 Herald Ray Knight Player of the Year and former Worth County star Allen Fender, who broke his hand midway through last season. Hemmings told The Herald that Fender wasn’t invited to rejoin the team this year, but didn’t elaborate.

Among the freshmen who will immediately contribute this season is former Lee County star Matthew Aldrich, who spent the last two seasons at Valdosta State before transferring to Darton. Aldrich, a right-handed pitcher who has plans to play Division I ball next year, will be the Cavs’ ace this season.

“He has been leading our pitching staff, and he will throw 85-89 (mph),” Hemmings said. “He has a nasty two-seamer. He commands the strike zone and fields his position well. But the best thing about Matt is that when we were finalizing the details for him to come here, I called his coach and he said, ‘Matt can throw his slider five times to any hitter in the big leagues, and he’s not going to hit it.’ ”

In fact, during two intrasquad scrimmages, Aldrich’s teammates haven’t even been able to put a bat on his slider.

“My ninth-grade pitching coach taught me how to throw a slider,” said Aldrich, who also throws a fastball and a changeup. “I just kind of picked up on it, and each year (the slider) has gotten better and better.”

Aldrich will start today’s game against Wallace State Hanceville and will be followed in the rotation by 6-foot-4 freshman right hander Tyler Oglesby, who Hemmings said has an “electric arm.”

“I think pitching and defense are going to carry us,” Hemmings said. “I’m not convinced our freshmen will hit early. I think they will see what college baseball is really about, but by the end of the year we will make a few adjustments. We will really have a chance to score a lot of runs with our team speed.”

Darton’s starting lineup today will be led off by center fielder Russell Melton (Fr., Auburn, Ala.) and followed by DH Davis Knapp (Fr., Tallassee, Ala.), Nix (So., Adel), third baseman Evan Carr (So., Marietta), catcher Tripp Calhoun (Fr., Dacula), Manos (So., Woodstock), Stephen Farris (Fr., Hazlehurst), Alonso (So., Valdosta) and shortstop Cody Wofford (Fr., McDonough).

“Right now our pitching is looking really good, and the style of offense our coach has for us will get us to score runs,” Wofford said. “Pitching and defense are sound, and we just need to produce on offense.”