Darton shortstop Ventavis Jerger turns a double play Sunday as ABAC’s Jacob Baxter slides into second base. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
ALBANY — Sometime during the fourth inning Sunday night, Darton State’s Payton Mann let it sink in.
And when he did, he said it felt “awesome.”
“I was sitting in the dugout, and I thought, ‘We are part of something pretty cool,’ ” Mann said. “It was awesome.”
That was how the Cavs were feeling Easter evening as they swept Region XVII rival ABAC for wins No. 16 and 17 in a row, setting a school record for consecutive victories.
Darton rolled to an easy, 11-1 win in the opener and then blew open the second game with a five-run fourth inning, which was highlighted by two-out, two-run doubles from Mann and Luis Salas. The Cavs allowed just one ABAC hit the rest of the way to hold on for an 8-3 victory.
“Once I got the two-out double and Luis Salas got the two-out double I knew it was over,” Mann said. “I knew we had them. I knew they were going to lay down and quit.”
They haven’t lost at Darton since March 22 and have won 24 of 26 games since March 9.
It has been a special spring for the nationally-ranked No. 17 Cavs, and it has set the stage for the final two weeks of the regular season when Darton plays No. 6 Georgia Perimeter and No. 10 Middle Georgia in back-to-back four-game series, starting with Tuesday’s game against region-leading Perimeter.
“Ultimately, we had to get to 17 for this series (against Georgia Perimeter) to matter this week,” Darton coach Scot Hemmings said. “I told our guys, ‘The streak is great, but we have to get to 17 to make this matter.’ “
The Cavs are three games behind Georgia Perimeter in the region standings, which means if Darton wants the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament then it will likely need to sweep a Jaguars team that wraps up the regular season with a struggling ABAC club.
“If you are going to win this conference, you are going to have to beat Middle and beat Perimeter,” Hemmings said. “They both have great programs, great coaches and great players.”
Darton has looked nothing short of great lately as well.
The Cavs’ win in the opener equalled the school record for consecutive victories — which was set last season by Hemmings’ team — and then the five-run win in the second game broke it.
“I can’t criticize one thing we are doing right now,” Hemmings said. “They are playing with energy. They are playing with passion. I tell you what, it’s a heck of a lot of fun to watch right now. They are doing some dynamic things.”
The streak looked to be in jeopardy early in the second game when Darton starter Eric Henderson had control problems in the first two innings, allowing six of his first eight batters to reach base. Then he exited the game with one out in the second inning because of tightness in his shoulder, forcing the Cavs to dip into the bullpen earlier than expected.
However, the Cavs got out of a second-inning jam with a wild double play that started with center fielder Trey Haygood diving to his left for a line drive and having it skid out of his glove. He picked the ball up and fired it to second base for a force out, and then Darton second baseman Salas tagged out an ABAC runner who was trotting back to his dugout believing that there were already three outs.
ABAC was still able to score two runs in the second inning to tie the game at 3-3, and the score remained knotted until the bottom of the fourth when the Cavs rattled off six hits and five runs. The go-ahead run came from a Riliani Familia RBI single with one out, and then Mann and Salas each plated two runs with doubles, knocking ABAC starter Matt Shurley out of the game.
Darton right-hander Zack McCurry relieved Henderson and threw the next 4 2/3 innings, allowing five hits and no runs.
Closer and former Crisp County star Davis Adkins slammed the door on ABAC in the seventh inning by striking out the side and clinching the record win streak.
In the opener, ABAC jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, but Brandon Sharpe blasted his seventh home run of the season in the bottom of the first inning to give the Cavs a lead they would never surrender.
The Cavs pulled away for good with an eight-run fourth inning, and added another run in the sixth, ensuring their seventh win by 10 or more runs during the winning streak.
Sharpe, the Region XVII RBIs leader with 54, was 2-for-3 and drove in two runs. Hill Thomas slapped three base hits and scored two runs, while Mann and William Golden each had two hits in the opener.
Darton starter Brandon Goldsmith threw a gem, allowing three hits and one earned run in six innings while striking out four. McCurry pitched the final inning in relief and retired three straight after allowing a lead-off hit.
Darton will travel to Conyers on Tuesday for a single, nine-inning game against Georgia Perimeter before hosting the final three games of the series Friday and Saturday.
Mann said the Cavs will need to play with their same intensity as they enter their most important stretch of the season.
“We just have to go up to the plate and have the same approach we have been having,” Mann said. “We can’t go in scared. We can’t go in timid. If we do that, we will go in and lose.”