Darton’s Reydel Gonzalez helps turns a double play on Wallace-Dothan Community College’s Dane Gecina during Saturday’s 2013 home opener for the Cavaliers’ baseball team. The Cavs used a huge seventh inning to put the game away beat Wallace, 13-2. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — The Darton baseball team entered the bottom of the seventh inning clinging to a 3-2 lead in Saturday’s home opener against Wallace Community College (Ala.).
The Cavs left the inning with a 13-2, run-rule victory, turning the pitchers’ duel into an offensive clinic.
But you have to go all the way back to the third inning to find the true spark for Darton’s 10-run outburst.
It started in the shadows of the dugout, as Cavs right fielder Brandon Sharpe was shedding his batting helmet for his glove after leaving men stranded in scoring position for the second time in the game.
“Coach (Scot) Hemmings came to me and had a talk with me,” said Sharpe, a freshman from St. Simons Island. “He was just telling me that he knew I had guys in scoring position, but to just go up there and do what you were signed to do. Go up there and hit the baseball. Just relax and have fun.”
Sharpe roped an RBI triple on his next at-bat to give Darton a 3-2 lead and then began the seventh-inning rally with a two-run double over the center fielder’s head — a pair of swings that Hemmings brought to life with his makeshift pep talk in the dugout.
“I was tense before that talk,” Sharpe said. “But he just kind of told me to let loose. It’s a lot easier when you have a head coach who fully supports you.”
Before Darton’s bats exploded for 10 hits and 10 runs in the seventh, Cavs ace A.J. Sunstrom kept Wallace’s hitters in check, throwing six innings and allowing just four hits and two runs — both of which were unearned.
The sophomore right-hander improved to 2-0 on the mound this season and kept his ERA at 0.00, and he looked every bit the pitcher that was 8-1 with a 2.34 ERA last year.
“The defense helped me out. I didn’t pitch my best, but I got it done,” said Sunstrom, a sophomore from McDonough. “I was very fortunate that we had some good offense, and they made plays behind me. I was the beneficiary of good, hard work.”
Darton (3-2) opened the game with a run in the first inning on a Kyle Conkle RBI single, but Wallace (0-1) jumped ahead 2-1 in the top of the fourth. The Governors, who host Darton on Feb. 11, had chances to extend their lead even more but left runners in scoring position in all but one inning.
“The best thing about (Saturday’s) game is that we managed the game and then were able to explode with our big inning,” Hemmings said. “We had a chance to go down four or five runs, but we managed the game.”
Darton scored twice in the sixth inning to reclaim the lead and then put it away in the seventh, starting with a pair of singles from Nate Ferrell and Conkle, who were both knocked in by Sharpe’s double to deep center.
The hit parade continued with a single from Riliani Familia, a two-run single from Reydel Gonzalez, an RBI triple from Casey James, an RBI single from Davis Knapp, an RBI single from Ferrell, an RBI double from Conkle and a final single from Familia that scored Ferrell and ended the game.
It was one heck of a way to end a home opener that didn’t exactly start off as planned.
“We had a horrible batting practice and horrible infield (practice), and I brought them out here and told them to relax,” Hemmings said. “There are a lot of expectations out here, not from me but from the players. The players expect greatness, and they are putting a lot of expectations on themselves. About the fourth inning we started to relax and play.”
Sharpe finished 2-for-5 at the plate with three RBI, while James (2-for-3, 2 RBI), Ferrell (2-for-4, RBI), Conkle (2-for-4, 2 RBI, 2 runs), Familia (2-for-5, RBI), Gonzalez (2-for-4, 2 RBI) and Ventavis Jerger (2-for-3) also had multi-hit games.
Darton plays again today at home against Southern Union and then packs up for a four-game road trip that includes two games in Alabama and two in Florida.