LOCAL COLLEGE ROUNDUP: Darton’s late push to beat No. 1 Meridian comes up short

Darton's Joe Sakulpolphaisan won the Lou Hart Invitational by four strokes even though his team lost to No. 1 Meridian Community College.

Darton's Joe Sakulpolphaisan won the Lou Hart Invitational by four strokes even though his team lost to No. 1 Meridian Community College.

MERIDIAN, Miss. — Darton keeps knocking on the door.

And Meridian keeps slamming it shut.

For the second tournament in a row and the fourth time this year, Meridian Community College — the No. 1-ranked men’s golf team in NJCAA — held off a Darton comeback Tuesday in the final round of the Lou Hart Invitational.

Even Darton sophomore Joe Sakulpolphaisan’s individual championship couldn’t give the Cavs the edge this time.

Darton, which had a two-shot lead after the opening round but then slipped up in the second round to fall behind Meridian by 10 strokes, surged in Tuesday’s third and final round and pulled even with the top-ranked team with just a few holes to go.

But just like in the Goose Pond Spring Fling earlier this month and two other times in the fall, Meridian hung on for the win.

The No. 10-ranked Darton golfers made a double bogey and multiple bogeys on the final holes to shoot a final-day 287 and lose by four strokes to Meridian, which shot a final-round 293.

“Every time we play them, it has been really close. It’s just a matter of time before we beat them,” Darton coach Bill Jones III said. “This time we were at one of their home courses, and we didn’t really play that well. And we still lost by just four strokes. It’s disappointing to lose to them two tournaments in a row after having a lead. But the guys are really looking forward to playing against them at district and nationals.”

The Cavs will get another shot at Meridian on April 20-22 in the NJCAA District IV Championship in Melbourne, Fla.

In last year’s District Championship, Darton came back from four strokes down in the final round to win the tournament and beat Meridian by six strokes.

If the Cavs plan on repeating as district champions, they will likely need a good tournament out of Sakulpolphaisan, who was his usual self this week in Mississippi.

The native of Thailand, who is the No. 1-ranked golfer in NJCAA Division I, shot a 1-under 70 Tuesday to finish 2-under for the tournament.

He birdied the final hole and won the three-round, six-team invitational by four strokes.

Darton sophomore Shad Tuten shot a 1-under 70 to finish at 5-over, and teammate Austin McNeill, who carded an eagle on the opening hole and didn’t have a bogey in his final round before a double bogey on No. 18, also fired a 1-under 70 to finish at 7-over.

Also for Darton, Robert Robertson and Chase Jones shot 77s.

GSW FINISHES 6TH: The Hurricanes shot a 297 in Tuesday’s final round of the Bearcat Invitational to improve two spots to finish sixth in the 17-team tournament.

GSW shot 27-over in the three-round tournament — well behind winner South Carolina-Aiken, which finished at 8-under.

Former Darton golfer Taylor Welborn finished in a tie for eighth place at even par. GSW’s Craig Gibson shot a 75 on Tuesday and finished tied for fourth at 2-under.

Also for GSW, Travis Oeastmann shot a 73 to finish in a tie for 28th at 9-over, former Lee County star Nate Gahman shot a 78 to finish in a tie for 32nd at 10-over and Christopher Hall shot a 74 to finish in a tie for 42nd at 13-over.

Cavs rout Region XVII foe Andrew

CUTHBERT — Andrew found out first-hand Tuesday afternoon why Darton is the top team in Region XVII and why Cavs pitcher Matthew Aldrich is one of the top pitchers in the nation.

Aldrich, who leads NJCAA Division I with 81 strikeouts, threw four innings and allowed just one hit in Darton’s 17-4 victory.

The win improved Darton’s record to 25-8 overall and 12-1 in the conference, while Andrew dropped to 3-6 in conference play.

Darton sophomore Kevin Manos, who leads the nation in RBI, was 4-for-5 with three RBI and a run, while Cody Wofford was 3-for-6 with two RBI, Russell Melton was 2-for-6 with two RBI and Evan Carr was 2-for-5 with three runs and three RBI.

Ethan Glass relieved Aldrich after the fourth inning and threw three innings of one-hit baseball, and Andrew Crumbley and Shawn Thomas also pitched one inning each in relief.

Right-hander Richard Nason was the losing pitcher for Andrew. The Tigers were led at the plate by Taylor Jackson, who was 1-for-3 and drove in the game’s first run in the bottom of the second inning to give Andrew the early lead.

Darton, which has now won 13 of its past 14 games, responded with five runs in the top of the third and never looked back.

Lady Cavs sweep Gordon

BARNESVILLE — Darton’s softball team swept a doubleheader from Gordon College on the road on Tuesday, winning the first game, 4-2, and hammering Gordon, 11-2, in the nightcap.

Katy Jordan did not allow an earned run all day and picked up both wins— one as a starter and one in relief — and is now 17-1 for the season as Darton stretched its winning streak to 28 in a row as the Lady Cavs beat one of the top pitchers in the country twice.

Gordon’s Megan Stover, who was the national pitcher of the week last week, pitched both games and took both losses.

Jordan went the distance in the opener, striking out eight while allowing just one hit and then she entered the game in relief in Game 2, and pitched three innings, striking out three and allowing one hit. Jenny Willis started Game 2 and gave up two runs on four hits over four innings.

Erica Vasquez hit her eighth home run of the season in the opener, a three-run shot, and also homered in the second game as she went 3-for-5 with five RBI in the nightcap. Chelsea Showers hit her fifth home run and drove in three runs in the 11-2 win, and Amanda Jaskolski went 2-for-5 with a double and two RBI in the one-sided win.

Darton (34-1) plays at Middle Georgia at 3 p.m. on Thursday.