Nate Ferrell, right, is congratulated by teammates after he came off the bench and shook off his recent struggles to deliver the game-winning hit — a seventh-inning, walk-off single — Saturday to help the Cavaliers beat Region XVII No. 1 Middle Georgia.
ALBANY — Peering behind a tree about 50 yards outside of Cavalier Field, Middle Georgia coach Craig Young watched Nate Ferrell rescue Darton’s season.
Ferrell, riding momentum that began back in the sixth inning when Young was ejected for protesting balls and strikes, hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh inning, lifting Darton to a 7-6 win in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader and snapping a three-game losing streak to Middle Georgia.
With heavy postseason implications on the line, Ferrell’s single to center field that scored Davis Knapp was the spark the slumping Cavs were waiting for.
“I felt like we had been in a lull these last couple of games, and a big win like this can get us rolling,” Ferrell said.
Ferrell didn’t start in either game Saturday but came off the bench late in the nightcap to play hero against the best closer in Region XVII, Middle Georgia’s Blake Shouse, who had around a dozen MLB scouts eyeing him from the stands Saturday.
“That’s the All-Conference closer right there, and Nate just barrels one up through the middle and has a huge hit for us,” Darton coach Scot Hemmings said. “He has been struggling as of late but came off the bench and did a phenomenal job.”
About the time Ferrell entered the game, Young was on his way out.
Young, who is in his 14th year as coach of the Knights, watched Darton put together a five-run rally in the bottom of the sixth to tie the game, but midway through the inning he was tossed for arguing with the home plate umpire.
He charged out of the dugout, screaming at the ump and alleging him of “robbing” his pitcher of a strikeout. On his way off the field, Young turned around toward the ump, got into a crouched position and impersonated first his catcher and then the umpire by pretending to catch three straight pitches and emphatically calling each of them a strike.
Darton shortstop Cody Wofford, who was standing on third base during the meltdown, called the moment “crazy.”
“When you see guys get into arguments with the umpire like that, it excites you and gives the team a little more energy,” Wofford said. “I thought it was a little crazy, but it helped us.”
The Cavs trailed Middle Georgia, 6-3, at the time Young was ejected but responded with three more runs in the sixth to tie it at 6-6.
Hemmings, who played for Young at ABAC in the mid-1990s, said the argument from his former coach helped fuel his team’s comeback.
“He got tossed right there and rightfully so,” Hemmings said. “I thought those pitches were pretty good, but our guys kind of fueled off of him because (Middle Georgia) had been chirping the entire week about different calls here and there. … It was kind of a momentum swing if you ask me.”
The drama surrounding Young’s ejection didn’t end there.
Instead of leaving the ballpark, Young hung around the team’s bullpen area for an inning and allegedly relayed messages to his assistant coaches concerning lineup changes before finally heading back to the bus and watching the rest of the game behind a tree near the parking lot.
Hemmings decided to play the final two innings under protest because of Young’s actions after the ejection.
“The rules state that once you are ejected from the game you aren’t able to relay any type of message into the game, whether it be by cell phone, walkie-talkie or the coach coming back out,” Hemmings said. “That is a rule. I’m not exactly sure what the consequences of that rule are. I thought it was a forfeit, but that is why I played it under protest because the umpires didn’t know the rule either.
“He came back out and coached from the sideline and was sent back to the bus but came back to the sideline. Then he was relaying messages to his wife. So that’s why I played the game under protest.”
Young would not comment when asked by The Herald about the ejection and the series of events that followed.
“What do I think about it?” Young repeated the question. “(Darton) did a hell of a job. They pitched and made the pitches and won.”
No. 9 nationally ranked Darton (36-11, 21-7) began the week cracking the Top 10 of the NJCAA national poll for the first time in program history, but Middle Georgia won three straight against the Cavs to ascend to first place in the region and knock the Cavs down to third.
The Cavs’ comeback win in the nightcap puts them three games behind second-place Georgia Perimeter entering a crucial four-game series against the Jaguars next week.
“We didn’t play a very good series against (Middle Georgia), but that win right there could give us some momentum going into the Perimeter series and the tournament,” Wofford said.
Despite the walk-off win, Hemmings questioned if his players can win three of four against Perimeter to grab a No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the conference tournament.
“It depends on how tough we are,” Hemmings said. “I’m not sure we are real tough, because (Middle Georgia pitcher Javier Reynoso) throws behind our best player in Knapp and then hits him (with a pitch). (Middle Georgia) ran their mouth the whole time, and then we are out here hugging them after the game. I don’t know if we are tough enough.”
Darton took a 1-0 lead in the third inning when Ventavis Jerger scored on a Trey Haygood single, but Middle Georgia bounced back with five runs in the fourth and another in the fifth on Darton starter Brandon Goldsmith.
Darton’s sixth-inning rally began with Knapp getting hit by a pitch and Brandon Sharpe drawing a walk. Wofford hit a two-run double, Ferrell drove in one with a fielder’s choice and Haygood tied the game with two-run single.
Knapp opened the seventh with a single and advanced to second and then third on two wild pitches before scoring the winning run.
Middle Georgia won the opener, 4-1, defeating Darton ace A.J. Sunstrom, who lasted just four innings and allowed three runs. Sharpe scored the Cavs’ lone run on a Riliani Familia RBI single.