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ASU sweeps Miles in season-opening doubleheader

Albany State’s John Paul Benard slides into third base for a triple during the Rams’ season opener Saturday against Miles. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)

Albany State’s John Paul Benard slides into third base for a triple during the Rams’ season opener Saturday against Miles. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)

Darton baseball falls to 0-4

PANAMA CITY, Fla. – Darton’s bullpen blew two late-inning leads Saturday as the Cavs lost to Tallahassee Community College and Gulf Coast State to fall to 0-4 on the season.

The Cavs lost their opener to TCC, 6-4, after starter Davis Adkins, a former Crisp County star, exited the game with a 4-2 lead. In the bottom of the sixth inning, Alex Bollinger gave up four earned runs and took the loss.

Brandon Sharpe led the Cavs at the plate with two RBIs, and Luis Salas belted a two-run homer in the fourth inning.

In the second game, Darton lost 5-4 after Gulf Coast scored two games in the bottom of the seventh to walk off with the win.

Payton Mann hit a two-run homer in the top of the fourth inning to give the Cavs a 3-2 lead and then Trey Haygood scored on an error to give Darton a 4-3 lead in the fifth inning – an advantage the Cavs would hold until the final inning.

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Albany State’s Jacob Campbell, a former Westover star, hits an RBI sacrifice fly Saturday against Miles. Campbell cracked the aluminum bat on the fly ball, which was just short of a home run to right field. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)

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Albany State reliever Sam Fielding throws during the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader against Miles. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)

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Albany State reliever and former Terrell Academy star Josh Brunswick warms up in the bullpen Saturday during Game 1 against Miles. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)

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Albany State’s Frank Rivers throws to a Miles batter during Saturday’s season opener, which the Rams won, 10-9. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)

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Albany State’s Clifford Peterson, who started Game 1 Saturday against Miles but got a no-decision, throws in the third innings. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)

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Albany State’s Theo Tramontana warms up in the bullpen during Saturday’s doubleheader against Miles. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)

ALBANY — For Albany State’s baseball team there could not be a better way to start the 2014 season.

Winning both games of a doubleheader on Saturday, the Golden Rams proved that they have determination and focus to come from behind as they edged out Miles College, 10-9, in the opener, then they showed their ability to dominate both hitting and pitching as they drubbed the Golden Bears, 14-2, in the nightcap.

“This is a momentum builder and we are going to stick with winning,” catcher Robert Latner said of his team’s perfect start to the season. “We outplayed these guys because we were in better shape, and that’s all due to the coaches and players working hard.”

Latner, who went 3-for-4 in game two with five RBIs, was a big reason why the Rams scored so many runs. After scoring a run off a wild pitch and driving in a run of a sacrifice fly, Latner blasted a grand slam over the right-field wall, which was part of a seven-run fifth inning for Albany State.

“I saw that there were men in scoring position, and coach said to [wait for] your pitch and it just happened to be the first one, which came right over the plate,” Latner said. “We all worked hard during the offseason and we aren’t going to quit scoring [regardless of the score].”

With 14 runs on the board, Latner was not the only one who had an eventful day at the plate. After walking during his first at-bat, Allen Hardy singled and eventually scored. He scored again off an error and then drove in a run with an RBI single.

He finished with two hits, two walks and three runs. Jacob Campbell was 2-for-3 with one run batted in and two runs scored, while Reese McDaniel flew out twice before singling in a run and scoring twice himself.

The offensive explosion in game two even caught the head coach by surprise.

“We are capable of some things, but never coming in to a game do you expect it to be 14-2,” Albany State coach Kenyan Conner admitted. “So we were not thinking that, but that’s what happened and we’ll take that every time.”

The 12-run victory would not have happened were it not for starting pitcher Allen Fender who yielded two first-inning runs before shutting the Bears out the rest of the way.

“He threw a lot of first-pitch strikes and put himself in a good situation,” Conner said of his starter who lasted a little more than four innings. “Once you get ahead and throw strikes everything else works itself out. He was efficient and did the things we needed him to do to win the game.”

Despite his control at the plate, Fender threw five pitches more than his allotted number of 80, which is why Conner was not tempted to leave him in the game. Theo Tramontana came in relief and Ryan Latner closed out the game with Miles’ score unchanged.

Game one did not come nearly as easy as the second as the Rams had to battle their way back after falling behind 9-5.

Clifford Peterson got the start for the Albany State and appeared to be settling down after giving up two runs over three innings. But he fell apart in the fourth inning, yielding four more runs before being pulled from the game.

“I thought we left him in there a little too long and he went over his pitch count,” Conner admitted. “Fortunately we got him out before it cost us too many runs, and the other guys came in throwing strikes.”

The Rams first got on the board in the first inning when first baseman Ume Udofia knocked in Campbell with a single. Two batters later, Robert Latner did the same thing, enabling McDaniel to cross home plate. Albany State put up two more runs the next inning.

Udofia’s 2-for-4 day at the plate along with three RBI earned him one of the two game balls. McDaniel had three hits with three runs, while Allen Hardy scored twice and walked twice, to go along with an RBI single.

But going into the bottom of the sixth inning the Rams faced a four-run deficit.

“We were dead a little bit and I thought we needed a spark,” Conner said. “I pinched hit Andrew Bacon, who led us off with a hit which is always positive. And then with two outs I pinched hit another local kid, Josh Brunswick.”

Conner’s lineup shaking ended up being exactly what the Rams needed. Bacon’s single soon led to a run from Fontaine Washington who was pinch-running for Bacon. But Conner’s biggest gamble came in letting freshman Joshua Brunswick come to the plate for his first collegiate at-bat with one out remaining.

Brunswick did not disappoint as he lined the ball into the outfield for a single, driving in the tying and go-ahead run.

“Honestly I was nervous because it was my first at-bat,” acknowledged Brunswick, who earned the other game ball. “But the coaches got me ready for [the moment]. I got down in the count and the [pitcher] threw a curveball outside and [hit] it and got a base hit.

“It was probably one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had playing baseball. It increases my confidence greatly but it was just me; our guys worked really hard and everyone did their job, and I just happened to do mine at the right time.”

After the doubleheader Conner praised his players for their performance, but did point out some areas in need of correction. The Rams will practice today at noon as they prepare for their next game Monday in Florida.