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Darton pitches lights out in openers, settles for split

Darton ace A.J. Sunstrom allowed just two hits, struck out three and walked just one batter, setting the tone for the season right away Friday in a shutout win against Gulf Coast.

Darton ace A.J. Sunstrom allowed just two hits, struck out three and walked just one batter, setting the tone for the season right away Friday in a shutout win against Gulf Coast.

PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Darton State College baseball coach Scot Hemmings said he saw “about 15 major league scouts” in the stands Friday during the Cavaliers’ 2013 season opener.

And for the most part, Hemmings’ kids gave them all a heck of a show — especially sophomore ace A.J. Sunstrom.

Sunstrom wiped the floor with Gulf Coast State in the Cavs’ 2013 season opener Friday, pitching a complete-game shutout that ended with an impressive 3-0 Darton win.

Sunstrom allowed just two hits, struck out three and walked just one batter, setting the tone for the season right away.

“Our pitching was outstanding (Friday),” said Hemmings, who began his second season as head coach Friday. “I’m not sure we could’ve asked for any better. In 14 innings of play (between the two games), we gave up one earned run. Not too bad.”

Sunstrom, the powerful right-hander from McDonough, also got plenty of help from Darton’s bats, which managed seven hits off GCS’s tough lefty starter.

Nate Ferrell, a native of Griffin, finished 2-for-3 with a double and a run scored, while freshman Ventavis Jerger of Tallahassee, Fla., also finished 2-for-3 with an RBI, a run scored and a stolen base.

Ferrell got the scoring going in the second inning when he doubled and was eventually driven in by Jerger. Fellow freshman Trey Haygood from Valdosta then singled, bringing home Jerger as Darton went up early, 2-0. The Cavs’ final run came in the top of the seventh when freshman Brandon Sharpe of St. Simons Island walked and was brought home on a fielder’s choice by freshman Rashad Bullups of Senoia.

Darton managed seven hits in the game — a stat that’s not overwhelming, but important, said Hemmings.

“To come down here, on the road, and face a good lefty like we did, I feel good about (getting those seven hits),” said Hemmings, whose team will turn around and play another doubleheader today, beginning at 1 p.m. against Central Alabama. “To come out of here with a split, I’m happy about that.”

The split happened when Darton fell in Game 2 to traditional JUCO power Tallahassee Community, 2-1. Although, Darton will get a chance to avenge that loss today when the Cavs play TCC again in the second half of the doubleheader at 4:30 p.m.

Darton managed just three hits in the Game 2 loss — one by Ferrell, one by sophomore shortstop Cody Wofford of McDonough and the other by sophomore Kyle Conkel of Fort Payne, Ala. — while former Crisp County star Davis Adkins, a freshman, shouldered the loss on the mound, pitching just 1 1/3 inning, while giving up one run, a walk and striking out one.

Fellow freshman John Harman of Carrollton started the game and went 4 2/3 innings, allowing one run, three hits and he also hit one batter, although he did strike out three. Another freshman, Ryan McCranie of Covington, finished up the game, leaving Hemmings feeling confident about his young arms.

“The biggest thing I took away from loss was that we pitched three freshmen who really looked sharp,” he said. “They could’ve come out and let the moment of it being their first outing get to them and made excuses afterward, but they didn’t. They competed, they threw well and they were full of composure. Our offense just didn’t do much in that second game. But I’m not worried. That will come with time. It’s only the second game.”