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March 18, 2014

Fast start for Blue Devils baseball

TIFTON — Not much has been able to detour the Tift County Diamond Devils this year. Holders of a 10-1 record and a No. 6 state ranking according to Score Atlanta, the program is on a roll.

It seems the only things that have kept them off the field have been things beyond their control: limited games in the early going and as of the last few days, bad weather.

"It's been messing with our practice," said head coach Kyle Kirk of the rains. He said they were hopeful of getting some reps on the field Tuesday afternoon and some time in the batting cage.

The schedule has been light, too, lately. Last week, they had a single game up at Veterans in Kathleen, then a Friday doubleheader at Lowndes that kicked off the region schedule. A week before that, they had only a home game with Veterans. They are back home, but have only a doubleheader against Colquitt County Friday.

Colquitt, though currently sitting at 6-5, is a team he is wary of playing.

He said the Packers had lost several players from the previous year, but "Coach (Tony) Kirkland always has a good program."

The Pack are 2-2 in the region, having split doubleheaders with Brunswick and Valdosta. Tift is 1-1, having been beaten by Lowndes for their first loss of the year.

"You hope [losing] doesn't come in the region," said Kirk, but conceded it probably did not come at the worst time for the team.

With the way the season has been going, he looks to be right.

Immediately after the defeat — an 8-4 decision — they had their biggest team power surge. Four homers were hit in the game, including a 3-run bomb by Alex Abbott in the 1st. Briggs Benson immediately followed with a solo shot, one of two hit in the game. Zeke Dodson also had a homer.

Lowndes did not stand a chance as Deviner McCray pitched a complete game 6-0 shutout.

"Deviner switched momentum for us," he said.

In the earlier defeat, Blake Suggs also crushed a ball. Kirk said Zack Bullard had a good game on the hill, but that he probably left him in a little too long.

Kirk credits the power success to training that has been happening indoors. "The kids have worked extremely hard in the weight room."

The numbers have brought them not just attention in south Georgia, but statewide. The Devils did make it to the elite eight last year, but had to scrape their way courtesy of three road trips to metro Atlanta.

He's pleased Score Atlanta has taken notice so early in 2014.

"That's good recognition for our program," he said, though he is quick to say that rankings are not everything and a state championship is their goal. "We want to win the last game of the season. It also puts a target on your back."

Valdosta is the only other south Georgia team on the list, considered No. 10. They will play at Valdosta March 28 and also have a game against Lee County next Monday at Leesburg. They previously beat Lee 16-1 in a game played at home.

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