Darton’s Casey James, left, makes an athletic play to get the out at first base on South Georgia College’s Aaron Drew during their region tournament opener Wednesday. (David Mann/Darton State College)
Want To Go?
WHO: No. 3 seed Darton (39-12) vs. No. 2 seed Middle Georgia (35-13).
WHAT: Second round of the Region XVII baseball tourney.
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. today.
WHERE: Cavalier Field.
ALBANY — On April 27, Darton sophomore Davis Knapp felt Middle Georgia pitcher Javier Reynoso threw at him, sparking a dramatic finish to end the regular-season finale between the two rivals.
On Wednesday, Knapp had the go-ahead hit against sixth-seed South Georgia College in the opening round of the Region XVII tournament to lead the Cavs to a 6-4 win and set up a rematch against Middle Georgia today at 3:30 p.m. in the second round.
It’s a rematch Knapp and the nationally-ranked No. 9 Cavs have been waiting for.
“Emotions will be high on both sides (today), but the team that is able to play through that and get back to playing baseball will be successful,” said Knapp, who scored the winning run in that late April comeback win against Middle Georgia. “That tension will still be there the way that game ended with them throwing at guys and us coming back to win.”
Darton, the No. 3 seed, is on a three-game winning streak, while Middle Georgia, the No. 2 seed, has lost three of four and will be playing without head coach Craig Young, who will be serving the final game of a four-game suspension that stemmed from an incident in the April 27 matchup with Darton when he was ejected but didn’t leave the vicinity of the diamond.
The Cavs (39-12) needed to come from behind on Wednesday to ensure today’s rematch, and the comeback came in the bottom of the sixth inning with Darton trailing 3-2 against South Georgia ace, Brandon Whitmore, who has been offered scholarships by several Division II schools, including Georgia Southwestern.
Kyle Conkle started the rally with a one-out double to left field, and then Whitmore walked Casey James and Ventavis Jerger to load the bases before walking Kody Adams to tie the game at 3-3.
“Everybody in the dugout said, ‘This is the inning,’ ” Knapp said. “It was clear that if we found a way to come through and score then that we were going to be able to pull it out.”
With the bases loaded and two outs, Knapp ran the count to 3-1 before lining the ball between the shortstop and third baseman to score James and Jerger and give the Cavs a 5-3 lead.
He watched a 3-0 pitch in his wheelhouse and was sitting on the same pitch on the 3-1 count.
“I told myself that if he came there again I was going to make him pay,” Knapp said. “I hadn’t hit well the last couple of weeks, but I got a good pitch and put a good swing on it.”
The Cavs, who are looking for their first region title in program history, added an insurance run in the seventh on an RBI single from James that scored Cody Wofford, but things got interesting in the eighth and ninth innings when South Georgia started to threaten.
Darton reliever Cole Goodwin, a former Lee County star, hit a batter and then walked three straight to bring in a run and make the score 6-4, but right-hander Chris Long got out of the bases-loaded jam in the eighth and stranded two runners in the ninth to end the game.
With runners on first and second with one out in the ninth, Darton coach Scot Hemmings was ready to bring in today’s starter, former Crisp County star Davis Adkins, who has a 0.74 ERA and was the team’s closer for most of the season.
But Adkins never left the bullpen and will throw the first pitch today at 3:30 p.m.
“We are in tournament mode now,” Hemmings said. “We have a game under our belt, where as Middle Georgia and (No. 1 seed Georgia) Perimeter have to come in (today) and it might be tough on them if it takes five or six innings to get into tournament mode.”
Freshman John Harman started Wednesday’s game, threw 6 2/3 innings and got his seventh win of the season after allowing three runs and six hits.
Harman only allowed two hits over the first five innings and held South Georgia to an unearned run in the second inning.
“I was trying to make myself feel like this was just another game,” Harman said. “I wasn’t trying to make this game any more special than what it was.”
Harman was on the mound for the opener of the regular-season series against Middle Georgia and picked up just his second loss of the year, but he believes the Cavs are a different team now, riding momentum from a season-ending sweep against Georgia Perimeter.
“We are getting back to that same team that we had in the beginning and middle of season,” Harman said. “It started in the two games against Perimeter. I could tell right then that this was the team that I came to play for.”