Crisp County seniors, from left, Devin Taylor, Taylor Walls, Chris McGinnis and CJ White have the Cougars aiming for a deep postseason run this season. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)
CORDELE — The feeling has been different.
A lot different for the Crisp County High School baseball team.
It’s been that way since last May 20, the day Marist swept a doubleheader from them in the semifinals of the Class AAAA playoffs.
The workouts have been more difficult. The players have pushed themselves much harder. And there’s an attitude of hungriness.
The Marist loss was an end to Crisp’s promising season in 2013 and the final game for three seniors, who would never don a Cougar uniform again.
But for a solid corps of underclassmen, they vowed that the Cougars would be back — and they would try their best to win a championship for last season’s seniors.
Crisp County’s 2014 senior class is doing its part to help put the team in position to avenge last season’s painful loss in the semifinals. The Cougars are 14-2 and have won 10 straight since a pair of losses to Florida powerhouses West Orange of Orlando and North Florida Christian in the prestigious LaGrange Invitational earlier this year.
And with the Cougars’ 6-1 victory over Worth County on Tuesday, they took over first place in the Region 1-AAAA standings with less than a month remaining in the regular season. In the last Georgia Dugout Club baseball poll, Crisp County was ranked 10th in the state.
“We’re pretty pleased with what we’ve been doing,” senior outfielder Devin Taylor said. “But there is always room for improvement. … We don’t want to settle for anything less than a state championship.”
After winning three straight region titles, Crisp County has finally earned state-wide recognition for its efforts. They were ranked second in Class AAAA in the Georgia Dugout Preview magazine’s preseason rankings behind Marist, the team that ended the Cougars’ run last year.
Crisp returned seven starters, including shortstop and offensive leader Taylor Walls, who has signed to play at Florida State as well as Taylor and third baseman CJ White.
But the biggest reason the Cougars drew preseason headlines was because of its strong pitching staff. Junior left-hander Stewart Tyler and senior right-hander Landon Whitman formed arguably Southwest Georgia’s top lefty-righty combination.
Despite the loss of All-American pitcher Robert Tyler — The Herald’s Player of the Year last season who is now at Georgia — Crisp still had enough firepower to make another deep postseason run. Throw into the mix the emergence of junior left-hander Logan Carter and the Cougars seemed a sure bet to run through Region 1-AAAA.
However, Whitman had surgery on his pitching hand this week after a freak injury and won’t be able to pitch for at least three months.
But the Cougars are still confident they can make a run.
“This team has been playing together just about all of our lives,” White said. “We’ve got the unity of a family to make it all the way.”
Whitman’s injury was frustrating to the team, but the Cougars believe they are better offensively this season, something they didn’t do that well last year.
Crisp County coach Bill Pate said a key reason for the team’s success has been the offseason hiring of David Lamberth, who formerly coached at Central Gwinnett. Lamberth, who still holds the state’s single-season record for batting average of .720 when he was a senior at Macon County High in 1997, has helped the team at the plate.
“David’s came in and been a big part of our offense,” Pate said. “These guys look at what he did in high school and they figure he knows what’s he’s talking about.”
Pate is also no stranger to coaching top-notch talent in high school. While at Lowndes in the early 1990s, he coached J.D. and Tim Drew. Then when he went to Stockbridge High in the late 1990s, he coached and helped develop pitching standout Kyle Davies, who played with the Atlanta Braves and Kansas City Royals before landing in Cleveland this season.
While he doesn’t have Robert Tyler this season, he believes the chemistry on this team is second to none.
“After we walked off the field May 20 last year, these kids were back at it, working even harder in the offseason to do what they needed to do to get there,” Pate said. “They told the seniors last year that they would be back.”
The Cougars are already halfway there.