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Darton loses late lead, region title to Middle Georgia

Darton starting pitcher Chris Long threw six innings of no-hit baseball, but he couldn’t hold on to the lead in the Cavs’ 5-4 loss to Middle Georgia.

Darton starting pitcher Chris Long threw six innings of no-hit baseball, but he couldn’t hold on to the lead in the Cavs’ 5-4 loss to Middle Georgia.

ALBANY — On a partly cloudy afternoon at Darton, it was quite fitting that the Cavaliers closed their season looking at the silver linings. Despite six hitless innings by Chris Long, the Cavs fell, 5-4, to the Middle Georgia College Warriors in the Region XVII championship.

“You’ve got to tip your hat to MGC,” Darton coach Scot Hemmings said. “They had big hits when it mattered most. Their coach does a nice job. They’re solid all the way around, and they’ve been solid for a long time.”

The Cavs, who were looking for their first region championship, finished with a program-best 42-14 record and ended the year ranked No. 9 in the country, also a program record.

With the Cavs trailing 2-1 in the fourth inning, Tripp Calhoun and Casey James belted an RBI single and triple, respectively, to put Darton up 3-2, its first lead of the game.

After freshman outfielder Brandon Sharpe drove home another run in the bottom of the fifth, the Cavs took a 4-2 lead into the top of the eighth inning.

From that point on, the Warriors’ bats came alive.

Middle Georgia sophomore Blake Shouse started the rally with an RBI double, and shortly thereafter, first baseman Traevian Wilson drove Shouse in with a single. Warriors’ catcher Cole Thompson, who had the game-winning hit in the teams’ previous meeting, drove in the final run, which proved to be the difference.

“His progress through the year has been phenomenal,” MGC coach Craig Young said of Thompson. “He came in as just a guy with a big arm. He turned into a guy who can control the game.”

Middle Georgia’s closer Justin Flores picked up the win. The Warriors’ pitching unit combined to give up six hits and four earned runs, while Darton’s three pitchers gave up seven hits. The Cavs surrendered four fielding errors in the loss.

“I don’t think it’s been anything different from what we’ve done all along,” Young said. “We’ve won 22 one-run games this season. It wasn’t anything new to them.”

The Cavs just couldn’t get over the hump against MGC, which knocked them into the loser’s bracket in the second round and also won 3-of-4 in the regular season.

“We played them close in our last two games,” Sharpe said. “We thought we had a really good chance to win. We were all playing on tired legs, but that’s no excuse. They came out and got the hit when they needed to, and we didn’t. It was just an absolute war. We knew it’d be tough to beat them twice, we just wanted to let them know we were here to fight.”

It was a fitting way to end one of the state’s best rivalries.

“It was an amazing game,” said Darton coach Scot Hemmings. “We came up with a few big hits and had a 4-2 lead in the eighth. We decided to leave Chris (Long) out there and ended up walking a guy and giving up a double. That hit in the eighth (Shouse’s RBI double) may have broken our backs.”

Despite the early exit, the Cavaliers had their best season in program history, and did so with 13 freshmen on the roster. The sophomore class, however, holds a special place in Hemmings’ heart.

“We’re going to have to credit the sophomore class for what they’ve done,” Hemmings said. “I’m indebted to those guys forever. It’s the best group I’ve ever had. They won 80 games in two years. It’s been unbelievable, I’m really going to miss those guys.”

“I’ve got to tip my hat,” said Hemmings. “Going 42-14 is a good year. I’m proud of all my guys. The program is where it needs to be right now, and we’re excited about the future.”

Sharpe is one of the freshmen who will return for Darton.

“The way we fought through this tournament, I mean, this was our sixth game in four days,” Sharpe said. “This is definitely a big milestone for us. A lot of us are freshman too, so it’s a positive note for us coming back.”

Sharpe led the Cavs’ batters, going 2-for-3 with a walk, four stolen bases and an RBI. Thompson went 2-for-4 with a strikeout and two RBI to lead MGC.