Darton shortstop Cody Wofford is batting .387 with a team-high .552 slugging percentage and will be key this week as the Cavs hunt for their first Region XVII championship.
ALBANY — Darton shortstop Cody Wofford crammed into coach Scot Hemmings’ office with 12 other Cavalier sophomores last week, trying to solve a late-season slump that dropped the team from first to third place in the Region XVII standings.
They stepped out of the office with some answers.
“We fixed some things, and we came out and had a really good practice,” Wofford said. “The past two weeks we were going down hill a little bit, and that meeting really got us going.”
The nationally-ranked No. 9 Cavs, who had lost four of five before the meeting, swept top-seed Georgia Perimeter two days later, reclaiming some momentum heading into this week’s region tournament.
The Cavs, who were on top of the region standings for most of the season, open the double-elimination tournament as the No. 3 seed and will play No. 6 seed South Georgia at 3:30 p.m. today at Cavalier Field.
And Hemmings believed it was that 30-minute talk that might have turned the Cavs’ season around.
“They had put a lot of pressure on themselves to win the regular season, and we talked about relaxing and letting the system that we put in place work,” Hemmings said. “The confidence we possessed four weeks ago came back (in the wins vs. Perimeter). The defense was unbelievable. Our energy in the dugout was great. We kind of got back to what we are about here.”
The Cavs, who ended the season with a program-best 38-12 record, swept South Georgia in a four-game series in March, but the Tigers (22-33, 11-21) have won seven of nine and are one of the hottest teams in the state.
“South Georgia has a little magic,” Hemmings said about the Tigers, who went to the NJCAA World Series as a No. 5 seed two years ago. “To me, they are as dangerous as any team in this tournament.”
Hemmings will give freshman John Harman the start in the opener. Harman enters with a 3.36 ERA and a team-best 12-6 record, and the lefty has emerged as the team’s ace in the past month in the absence of A.J. Sunstrom, who was named the NJCAA Pitcher of the Week earlier in the season but only picked up one win in his last four outings.
Sunstrom, who last pitched April 27 against Middle Georgia, is no longer on the team’s roster for undisclosed reasons, opening the door for Harman.
Harman, like the rest of the Cavs, has had to recover from the losing streak that cost Darton a first-round bye.
“It’s hard to put that kind of frustration into words. We had controlled the standings all year until the end, and we just went through those series where we weren’t the same team that we were,” Harman said. “We kind of broke down and weren’t competing. As coach was saying, we came out expecting to win but not wanting to win.”
It’s been a completely different attitude the past week for the Cavs.
“We still have that chance (to win a title), but we made it harder on ourselves,” Harman said. “We still believe we have a chance, and we are going to compete and play our butts off until we accomplish that goal.”
It’s region title or bust for the Cavs despite the record-breaking regular season they put together.
“It’s nice to be 38-12, and it’s nice to be ninth in the country,” Hemmings said. “It’s nice to set four or five more records this year, but in the grand scheme of things I really don’t care about all that. I want to be measured by our last win.”
If the Cavs win they will face No. 2 seed Middle Georgia on Thursday, and reliever-turned-starter Davis Adkins will get his second start of the season.
Adkins, a Crisp County product, has a 0.74 ERA and would lead the nation in that category if he had enough innings pitched. The freshman had six saves during his tenure as the closer but moved into the rotation Saturday and pitched a complete-game, two-hit shutout against Georgia Perimeter in his first start since high school.
“I told him the other week that we had some issues with our starting rotation, and I told him he would start starting,” Hemmings said. “If you are down five or six runs, it really doesn’t matter if you have a great closer.”
Brandon Goldsmith will get the start in Darton’s third game if the Cavs are still alive, while starters for games four and five are still to be determined.
Darton, which has never won a region tournament, has nine players hitting between .300 and .400 with Kyle Conkle leading the team with a .392 batting average and Wofford leading with a .552 slugging percentage and 22 extra-base hits.
The team hits slightly better at home — .332 compared to .326 on the road — but with a 20-4 record at Cavalier Field, Wofford thinks the home-field advantage could make all the difference in the tournament.
“We know every little hitch in this field, and it’s more comfortable for us,” he said. “When we are more comfortable, that’s when we are better.”