Darton second baseman Luis Salas attempts to turn a double play Saturday as Georgia Perimeter’s Charles Sheffield slides into second base. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
ALBANY — Friday belonged to the Darton State Cavs, who won back-to-back thrillers in the Region XVII baseball tournament to clinch their first trip to the district tournament in program history.
On Saturday, it was Georgia Perimeter College’s turn to celebrate.
In a matchup between the tournament’s top two seeds, No. 1 Georgia Perimeter claimed the region championship with a 13-3 victory against Darton, wrapping up a tournament in which the Jaguars were dominant from start to finish.
“We played well,” said Georgia Perimeter coach Brett Campbell, whose Jaguars went 3-0 in the tournament with wins against ABAC, Middle Georgia and Darton. “I am very proud of these guys because really the last two weeks we have been scuffling and not really playing that well. We really played a solid week of baseball, so I am happy with that.”
The scenario was ripe for Saturday’s lopsided result with Georgia Perimeter entering the game with ace Dustin Beggs taking the mound and Darton coming into the matchup emotionally and physically drained after needing to win three straight elimination games to make it to the title bout.
Regardless of what happened on the field Saturday, Darton and Georgia Perimeter already clinched spots in next week’s East Central District tournament — which is why the Cavs were still upbeat following one of their worst losses of the season.
“Of course you are never happy to lose a championship game like that,” Darton infielder Tavin Thompson said. “But we get to go on and play another week. The season isn’t over yet, and we still have a chance to move on. We aren’t done.”
Darton used Luis Salas’ walk-off home run Friday afternoon to beat Gordon College, and then the Cavs gutted out a win Friday night against rival Middle Georgia to lock up a spot in the district tournament.
However, four games in two days left Darton’s pitching cupboard bare. Typical starters Davis Adkins — who threw 13 innings and more than 160 pitches to get both wins on Friday — John Harman, Brandon Goldsmith and Cole Amtmann sat in the press box Saturday in gym clothes, leaving freshman Alex Bollinger to take the mound in just his third start of the season.
Bollinger lasted three innings with five walks and three runs to take the loss, and reliever Zack McCurry surrendered six runs in two innings of work. By the time Darton reliever Jarius Rhodes took the mound in the top of the fifth inning, Georgia Perimeter had already built a 9-1 lead.
“We would have been in the same boat as them because we aren’t super deep pitching,” Campbell said. “When you come through the loser’s bracket you have to use a lot of guys, so we knew coming in (Saturday) that we had Dustin going and that they would probably have to throw somebody who hasn’t seen a ton of innings.”
Rhodes threw the final four innings in his longest outing of the season and allowed four hits and four runs. All but one of Georgia Perimeter’s starters scored at least one run, including catcher Jerad Curry, whose two-run homer in the fourth keyed a six-run inning for the Jaguars.
Beggs lasted six innings and scattered six hits and two runs to improve his record to 10-4. Georgia Perimeter’s Dylan Williams threw the final three innings and allowed three hits and one unearned run.
Darton’s damage at the plate was limited to Salas and Thompson, who combined to drive in all three of the Cavs’ runs. Thompson was 3-for-5 with two RBIs and a double, and Salas was 2-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI.
The district tournament begins Thursday at Georgia Perimeter’s Jaguar Stadium, where GPC and Darton will face off against Tennessee representatives Motlow State and Columbia State with a trip to the NJCAA World Series at stake.
No. 8 Georgia Perimeter (43-12), No. 12 Columbia State (41-11) and No. 18 Darton (42-18) are all ranked in the national poll, while Motlow State (40-22) upset 16th-ranked Walters State to clinch a spot at district.
The Thursday-Saturday tournament is double-elimination, which means Darton and Georgia Perimeter could easily meet up again — and the Cavs are ready.
“No coach or player on our staff has ever been to a regional, and we have a history with Georgia Perimeter,” Darton first baseman Brandon Sharpe said. “Those two things alone will fuel the emotion and fuel the drive. We have a lot of positives (heading into district).
“We have never had this extra week. (Friday) night was incredible. We are looking forward to next week, but we still have a lot of work to do. Our run isn’t over yet.”