Justin Burke, left, and Josh Buczek led Seminole County past Region 1-A rival Baconton Charter on Thursday.
DONALSONVILLE — It’s easy to spot Justin Burke.
You can find him with your eyes closed. He’s the loudest voice in the Seminole County dugout, a deep, robust voice that rises in chants that lift this team and makes everyone around him smile.
And, boy, do they chant in Seminole County.
Burke’s a natural at it.
And even at pitching if the Indians need him.
He didn’t have to pitch Thursday. Josh Buczek took care of that, and he took care of Baconton Charter, too, holding the Blazers to just four hits in an 8-3 win that everyone in the Region 1-A race is already calling important.
It sure was.
“This was a big win, a real big win,’’ said Burke, who spent the day behind the plate, calling a great game, and then spent the rest of his time making Baconton miserable. Burke went 3-for-4 and drove in two runs and then talked about how Seminole wanted to make a statement.
The Indians did.
It might be early, but the Indians, the defending region champs, know everyone is out to get them this year, and wouldn’t you know it, their biggest rival — that’s right, Miller County — has a team good enough to challenge for the title this year.
“Miller just beat Baconton, 3-2, so we had to beat Baconton,’’ Burke said. “We wanted to prove a point.’’
Burke is making his own statement. He’s coming back from Tommy John surgery and is the glue behind the plate for Seminole and also the team’s No. 2 starter. He has been used sparingly on the mound so far, but he hasn’t given up a hit in four innings of work. He has allowed one walk while striking out six.
Burke wasn’t chanting, but he was beaming after the win.
To understand just how significant the victory against Baconton was, it’s important to know that Baconton Charter (7-3 and 1-2 in the region race) always has one of the top baseball programs in Southwest Georgia.
“They’re always tough, and we’re going to have to play them later at their place,’’ Seminole coach Truette Johnson said after the game. “This was a big win for us. We’re 2-0 in the region, and that’s what determines the playoffs.’’
Now, as if this scene needed any more drama, consider this: Seminole County plays at bitter rival Miller County on Tuesday, and the winner will take over first place in the region.
Maybe that’s why the Indians didn’t waste any time Thursday.
The first four hitters in the lineup — Buczek, Jakari Martin, Dee Virgin and Burke — all rapped out singles to start the game. Virgin and Burke had RBI singles, and Herald Football Player of the Year Chris Brown followed with a sacrifice fly to give Seminole a 3-0 lead.
“We came right out and we hit in the first inning and jumped on them early,’’ Johnson said. “That set the tone.’’
Seminole scored three in the first and three in the sixth, and Buczek took care of the middle of the game. The Indians added a run in the third and another in the fifth and took an 8-1 lead into the seventh. Brown had two sacrifice flies and had a two-run single in the sixth to give Buczek all the room he needed to pitch a complete game.
“He pitched well. He pitched with the lead,’’ Johnson said. “We’re trying minimize his pitches (and make him more efficient). He had thrown only 61 pitches going into the last inning. He pounded the zone and threw strikes.’’
The Indians (6-3) have won six in a row, and Buczek is 2-0 for the year. He had four strikeouts and gave up only one earned run, holding Baconton to four singles. He also went 2-for-3 with a walk and scored twice.
“It was a big win, possibly the biggest win in our region,’’ Buczek said. “We’ve got Miller next week, so we knew we had to win this game. I came into this game not knowing what to expect. (Baconton is) a real good team. I just wanted to hit my spots. I’ve got a solid defense behind me, and we really played as a team.’’
Burke said Buczek was simply on his game.
“He looked good; his changeup was real good and we stuck with the fastball and the changeup,’’ Burke said. “He was throwing strikes and getting outs. He didn’t get a lot of strikeouts, but he got a lot of groundouts, and an out is an out.’’
It was a tough day for Baconton Charter ace Brock Pinson (2-2), who gave up a dozen hits and eight runs while striking out four and walking one.
“We unraveled early. You can’t give a good team like that any extra outs,’’ said Baconton Charter coach Bubber Birdsong, whose team made some errors early. “We were lucky to be down only 5-1 after five innings, and then they got the three runs in the sixth. I was proud of my kids. We came back (and got two runs in the seventh). Seminole’s a tough team.’’
Baconton Charter was led by Zack Jones, Jackson Bankston and Ryan Faircloth, who all had big hits for the Blazers.
But they just couldn’t mount much against Buczek and trailed the entire game.
“From the get-go we had momentum swinging our way,’’ Burke said of the three-run first inning. “We jumped on them and got the lead and the momentum. And momentum can control a baseball game.’’
And it doesn’t hurt to give momentum a little lift now and then with some loud chants in the dugout.
That’s Burke and the Indians, who made a loud enough statement Thursday.