Darton coach Scot Hemmings directed the Cavs to a win Friday in his first game managing the team.
PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Glenn Eames might be gone as Darton College’s baseball coach, but he hasn’t gone very far.
Eames, who started the program in 1995 but retired last season, was on hand Friday in Florida to watch his successor, Scot Hemmings, lead the Cavaliers to a win in their very first game of the season.
And it was a doozy.
Darton nipped Wallace State Hanceville, 5-4, after breaking a 4-4 tie in the bottom of the ninth inning thanks to a leadoff single from Bryant Alonzo and a pair of sac-bunts by Cody Wofford and Russell Melton — both of them reaching safely. Wofford later scored the winning run after Evan Carr patiently waited out a full count with the bases loaded and eventually was walked home.
“First of all, let me say how much it meant to me to have coach Eames on hand to support us (Friday). I’m very thankful for all that he’s done to make this transition a smooth one for me and my family,” Hemmings said. “The win feels great. The guys played unbelievable and never gave up. And it was great to do it with coach Eames right there watching.”
And just like that Hemmings starts his Darton career 1-0.
But don’t think for a second there was any type of Gatorade shower for Hemmings to celebrate the momentous occasion.
“No, they know better than that,” Hemmings said with a laugh. “It’s a good win and we’ll savor it for a moment — but all it is is one win. We’ve got another tough test (today against Gulf Coast Community College), and then after that we have 55 more. So we’re excited, but we’re not going to get too excited.”
The ride to the restaurant for Friday’s team dinner likely wouldn’t have been all that exciting had Darton blown its chance at a win, which nearly happened. With the Cavs leading, 4-2, entering the top of the ninth inning, reliver Jordan Villhauer came in looking to record the save, but instead nearly melted down.
The freshman from Canton, Ga., started off the inning by giving up single, hitting the next batter and then giving up a single to load the bases with no outs. Villhauer, however, then redeemed himself by making the next Wallace Hanceville batter hit into a 4-6-3 double play, although one run scored to narrow the margin to 4-3. Villhauer then allowed the tying run to score following a wild pitch that turned into a passed ball.
“I got onto him and was yelling a little bit after that inning because I felt like we lost our focus (at the most crucial time in the game),” Hemmings said. “But then I gathered my guys and told them, ‘Look, don’t get down. The last time I checked, the score is 4-4 in the bottom of the ninth, it’s our turn to bat and we have a chance to win this.” ”
And that’s exactly what Darton went out and did.
Wofford’s and Melton’s bunts were called to help move Manos up after his leadoff single, but perfect placement by both players allowed the bases to be loaded and put the Cavs in prime position to end it with one swing.
Hemmings said he may have been more proud of those two bunts than anything else Friday.
“We practice bunting all the time, every day,” he said. “Yes, we wanted them to bunt to advance the runner, but when executed properly — and put in a specific place — runners can reach safely. And that’s also something we practice. Cody and Russell put them right on the money down the third base line, and it worked out well.”
Wofford was the hero in more ways than one Friday. When Darton fell behind, 2-0, after two innings, Wofford — a freshman shortstop from McDonough — stepped to the plate and jacked a solo shot over the fence for the first Cavaliers home run of the season to cut the lead in half.
The power stroke was a welcome sign for the Cavs, who hit only four home runs — total — last season en route to a 20-33 record.
“Cody’s homer really got us going and gave us some confidence,” Hemmings said of Wofford, who finished the game 2-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored.
Darton ace Matt Aldrich, meanwhile, started, and finished, the day feeling confident. The former Lee County star, who transferred from Valdosta State this offseason, was sharp through six innings, striking out seven and only giving up two unearned runs.
“Once Matt settled in (after those two early runs he gave up), he really gave us a chance to win,” Hemmings said. “He played great.”
As did Manos, a sophomore from Woodstock, Ga., who officially put Darton in the lead in the bottom of the sixth inning when he blasted a bases-clearing triple with no outs to put the Cavs ahead, 4-2. Manos finished 2-for-4 with three RBI.
Michael Aker, a freshman from Suwanee, Ga., came on in relief for Aldrich in the seventh and shut down Wallace State. He struck out two, gave up no hits and walked one.
“One thing I was very proud of (Friday) was that we never got rattled when we fell behind early. And when Kevin drove that triple into the gap, it felt good to see us take the lead,” said Hemmings, whose team tallied 11 hits in the win. “We played mistake-free baseball and executed nearly everything we’ve been working on.”
Hemmings, who was driving with his wife to dinner as he reflected on the game, then added: “My guess is it’s a happy atmosphere on the team bus right now as we head for a nice steak dinner to celebrate.”
Which begged the question: Had Darton lost, would steak still have been on the menu Friday evening?
Hemmings, who chuckled at the question, answered quickly.
“I don’t think so ... no,” he said. “If we would’ve lost, they’d have gotten hot dogs.”