Darton baseball coach Scot Hemmings' team opens the Regiion XVII Tournament today against East Georgia.
Six Cavs baseball stars named to All-Conference team
COVINGTON — Six Darton College baseball student-athletes earned All-Region XVII honors, the Georgia College Athletic Association announced Thursday.
The GCAA named Cavalier first-baseman Casey James co-Defensive Player of the Year along with Georgia Perimeter College’s John Fidanza. James, a freshman from Brunswick, was also named a member of the All-Region Gold Glove Team with teammates Bryant Alonso, a second-baseman from Valdosta, and outfielder Parker Nix.
Nix, a sophomore from Adel, also received All-Conference, Second-Team honors with teammate Cody Wofford of McDonough.
Sophomore pitcher Matt Aldrich and outfielder Kevin Manos earned All-Conference, First-Team honors.
”I am extremely proud of our season and how far we have come in such a short amount of time,” said Darton College baseball coach Scot Hemmings, who took over the Cavalier baseball program in the fall. “The All-Conference awards and Gold Glove selections are direct results of each of these players’ work ethic and dedication to baseball.
“I am proud as I sit back and reflect on each player and his growth as a student-athlete and young man throughout the season.”
These individual ball players drew a lot of positive attention to a rejuvenated Darton baseball program.
For weeks, Aldrich and Manos led the NJCAA in strikeouts and RBI, respectively, while James is one of the leading defensive players in the nation. He currently has a .997 fielding percentage and 316 put outs.
And as a team, the program earned its first national ranking in history, going as high as No. 12 and spending six weeks in the Top 25. The Cavs broke school records for most wins in a season (36), RBI, team RBI, team stolen bases, individual hit-by-pitches and individual at-bats.
COVINGTON — Scot Hemmings saw the doubt creep into his players’ eyes. He felt the frustration slinking into the dugout.
But he wasn’t going to let the season slip away that easily.
“We got a little negative,” Darton’s first-year baseball coach said. “There were the (reactions like), ‘What’s going on? What’s happening?’ I pulled them aside and said, ‘Let’s not start that.’ ”
The Cavs were on top of the Region XVII standings and climbing up the NJCAA national rankings for the first time in school history, but a 6-1 loss to Thomas University on April 11 started a slide that led to Darton losing 10 of its last 13 games heading into the Region XVII Tournament, which starts today in Covington.
The Cavs were the clear-cut region No. 1 for much of the season, but they dropped to No. 2 during the middle of the losing skid, then needed to win two of their final three games to avoid dropping any further.
But after losing two of its final three regular-season games to Georgia Perimeter, Darton ultimately settled for the No. 3 seed and will open the tournament today against No. 6 seed East Georgia — a team Darton swept during the regular season. If Darton wins Game 1 today at 3:30 p.m., it will set up a matchup Saturday against Georgia Perimeter, which took over Darton’s spot as No. 2 seed based on the result of the two teams’ final series.
Despite the disappointing end to the regular season, there’s no panic in the Darton locker room.
“I don’t want anybody to sit around saying, ‘What’s going on at Darton?’ Nothing. There’s a lot of good things going on,” Hemmings said. “Our team plays hard. They do everything we ask them to do. We have had zero off-the-field issues. We have had very minor issues throughout the year that we deal with. I’m proud as heck of these guys. They have done an awesome job for us.”
The Cavs, who recently dipped out of the NJCAA’s Top 20 poll but did receive some votes, have lived and died by their pitching this season.
The starters began the season by going deep into games and racking up both strikeouts and wins, but then the momentum on the mound broke about as suddenly as Matt Aldrich’s slider.
“We were trying to make a perfect pitch,” Hemmings said. “We were trying to throw a perfect breaking ball instead of just throwing a good breaking ball. When we try to make perfect pitches, we are placing the ball, which gets us in negative counts.”
A.J. Sunstrom has emerged as one of the team’s top hurlers and will take a 7-1 record and a 1.77 ERA into the tournament, but he isn’t panicking either.
“I just felt like we hit a skid and couldn’t catch a break, but I think we are coming out of it,” Sunstrom said. “You can’t let (negative) thoughts control you. It’s easy when you are showing up and winning games, but when you hit a rough patch you have to stick together as a team because the same team that was putting up those record numbers is the same team that will be there when you lose games.”
The rest of the staff is made up of Jordan Villhauer, Tyler Oglesby and former Lee County star Aldrich, who have all battled injuries and control issues the last few weeks of the season. Aldrich, who leads the nation in strikeouts, had lower back spasms, Villhauer dodged an errant ball at practice and twisted his ankle, and Oglesby strained his triceps during a game two weeks ago.
Hemmings expects them to be healthy for the tournament, but their inconsistency made for a rough ending to the regular season. But as he sat in his office talking about the upcoming region tournament, Hemmings didn’t want to take anything away from a regular season that will go down as the most successful in the history of the program.
Sure, the Cavs are trying to regain momentum, but he refuses to let their slump define their season.
“What are the expectations around here?” Hemmings asked. “We set four offensive or pitching records this year. We have the most wins in the history of the program. We have been ranked in the Top 25 for six straight weeks. If the expectations get much higher than that, then it’s going to be tough to live up to.”
The Cavs, however, do have high expectations for the region tournament, which they need to win to advance to nationals.
“We are optimistic,” Sunstrom said. “We are sitting good going into the tournament and happy where we are. Our swings are getting back, and our pitchers are starting to locate again.
“We are ready to come out of it.”