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May 15, 2014

Tiftarea baseball hosts Knights

TIFTON — Friday night, Tiftarea Academy will be dressed up in suits and dresses, tassels and robes, marching to the tune of "Pomp and Circumstance." At noon Saturday, splendor in Chula will be replaced with dirt. Baseball season is still active and the Panthers are in the quarterfinals, slated to square off with the Dominion Christian Knights of Marietta in a doubleheader.

They had the opportunity to mix bats and gowns as the GISA's brackets suggested Friday as a start date, but head coach Brad Porter said "that was never an option for us." Saturday games might seem a bit odd to them, but not to the Knights. Their first round doubleheader against Westfield was bumped to Saturday last week because of rain.

Rain is also the reason the games were not instead moved up. Porter said that the sides had considered a Thursday start date, but one look at forecast changed that. That was the right call as the area was soaked with rain midweek, with dark clouds hanging around even longer.

Currently, it is a great time to be a Tiftarea player. They have won their last six games, including two big wins to open the state tournament. Those were in the amount of 6-0 and 23-2.

Porter, who earned his 300th win in the series, said he was a bit surprised by the difference in scores. "We heard (hitters) 1-5 for Augusta Prep were good." By the end of the day, he had used all 17 players in uniform and nearly all of them found a way to reach base. "Our guys did a good job of recognizing pitches to hit."

The blowouts won't happen against the Knights, he said.

"Dominion's a good baseball team. They did very well in their region. They had 15 hits in one game against Westfield and they will present a challenge for our pitchers."

Dominion split their Saturday games with Westfield, losing the first 3-1 before winning 9-3. When the teams got back together Monday, they were in top form. They struck for a 7-run 6th inning for the 9-3 clincher. Luke Luellan drove in four and Bryant Ambern 2.

There is also their mound work. "Their 1-2-3 pitchers are good at throwing strikes."  In game three, Riley Howard surrendered only two hits and a single earned run while striking out seven.

This was the point where Tiftarea's season ended last year. After two dominating wins against Weber School, it was Tattnall Square who eliminated them in a marathon three-game series. Tattnall went on to win the state title for the second straight year.

Porter looks back at that with pride and as a positive. "We were the only team to beat them in the playoffs," he said. "It taught our kids they belong; we learned a lot from it."

He will be sending Bo Vickers and Taylor Folsom to the mound as his starters. "Those two have been very effective," he said, adding that Ethan Bryant also did well in a relief appearance.

The hitting lineup should be similar as well. Several players had multi-hit games over the series, including five off the bat of Thomas Spurlin and four each from Rob Flick and Cade Marlowe.

"I'm overjoyed with the amount of quality kids. We feel comfortable with many guys at the plate."

The winner of the series will face either Brookwood or Stratford Academy.

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kid golfers 7-25.tif

Jensen Rainey (left) and Josie Arant will both be participating in the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship next week in North Carolina.

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