Tifton Gazette

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May 6, 2014

Devils, Mustangs clash in second round

TIFTON — It is not difficult for Tift County Blue Devils baseball coach Kyle Kirk to sum up his opposition in today's doubleheader.

"They're very good," he said.

Tift (22-4-1) is set to play on the road at Kennesaw Mountain, with game one starting at 5 p.m. The Mustangs sport a 22-6 record, have given up more than three runs just once in their past 13 games and have five commitments to Division I schools out of seven they have announced, four of those players being juniors.

Zack Chandler is committed to Savannah State, Cole Buffington to The Citadel, Ryley Gilliam to Penn State, Tyler Stephenson to Georgia Tech and Reggie Pruitt to Vanderbilt. Even one of their non-Division I players is going places; Alex Darwiche is reportedly headed for Johns Hopkins.

The pitching staff has combined for eight shutouts, including a no hitter by Gilliam. "They have four quality arms," Kirk said.

With numbers like that, it would be expected that they have plenty of recent history in the state tournament. They do not. This is their first appearance since 2011 and before sweeping Alcovy in the first round, they had not won a state game since 2007, when they lost to Brookwood in the finals.

The past, of course, matters little. The Mustangs are the current threat to the Blue Devils.

"We are going to try to keep them off the bases," he said. "They're very aggressive."

Like Tift, three of their losses were in the region. One to Marietta, one to North Cobb and one in the regular season finale to McEachern. The McEachern loss was the worst of the year, 10-1. Kirk said he had heard that McEachern had thrown everything possible at them that night.

On the mound, the Devils will be relying on usual starters Deviner McCray and Zack Bullard. Both men gave up a single hit to the Tri-Cities Bulldogs in the opening round, two games that were stopped by the mercy rule with the locals up 10-0 after six innings in the first game and leading 18-0 after three innings in the nightcap.

"I think we match up with them well," Kirk said of Kennesaw Mountain. "If Dev and Bullard do well, we should be in good shape."

If last week is any indication, they should. Of the 17 who played against the Bulldogs, only two failed to cross the plate. One of those only had one official at bat.  One of Tift's college signees, Alex Abbott (Florida), cranked a long homer in the first game and scored four runs. Ryan Ross, Briggs Benson and McCray knocked in three each and Suggs and McCray each had four hits.

Big performances also came from the bats and gloves of Christian Avant and Le Bassett, two freshmen Kirk has been working into the lineup. "I don't think there's an easy out in our lineup," he said.

The sweep of Tri-Cities moves the Devils to their fourth second round appearance in 10 years. Twice during that span, they have reached the quarterfinals. They fell to Walton in three games last year and lost to Kell in 2006.

If the Devils win, they are guaranteed to be on the road in the quarterfinals as well, no matter who wins the Milton-Grayson series. Milton is their region's No. 1 (Tift is a No. 2) and while Grayson is also a two seed, the GHSA brackets have already designated a home team when two seeds are the same.

 

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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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