Tifton Gazette

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May 28, 2014

Panthers offense, pitching have come alive during state run

TIFTON — Once upon a time, the Tiftarea Academy Panthers were arguably having a bad season. They had lost six straight games, were five games under .500 and had not even started their Region 3-AAA schedule. Today, they are 22-10 and two wins away from a state championship, scheduled to take on Tattnall Square Friday for that honor in a 4:30 doubleheader.

The Panthers started 2014 with a big win by Bo Vickers over Westfield, but that would be it for some time. Six straight games went against them before they picked up win No. 2 over Lee-Scott (Ala.) in Columbus on March 15. That started a brief winning streak that brought their record to 5-6.

They finally evened their record April 2 with a win against John Paul II (Fla.) in Tallahassee. A victory over Rickards bumped the mark to 8-7, but the real streak would not begin until they got back to region competition and a home date against region arch-rival Deerfield-Windsor.  The Knights were stomped 10-4 behind a solid performance on the hill by Vickers and three hits by Rob Flick.

Deerfield was the start of a 13-2 run, one they are currently maintaining. Unbelievably the team has yet to lose in the playoffs and currently carry an eight-game win streak.

Perhaps even more amazing is the way they have marched through the postseason. They scored their most runs (23) against Augusta Prep in the first round and are averaging 11 per game during the stretch. The team recorded two shutouts during the regular season; they have two in their six playoff games, both by Vickers.

The top of the order has been especially productive. Devin Paulk has scored 10 runs over the course of the state tournament with Cade Marlowe and Flick close behind with 9 and 8, respectively. Marlowe has hit the team's only two homers in state, both coming in the first game against Stratford Academy.

Tiftarea has had four complete games during the playoffs by their pitchers, with both relief appearances by Ethan Bryant in blowout situations.

Tiftarea has made the playoffs in each of the past 10 years and have a pair of state championships to show for it. They defeated Fullington Academy in the AA finals in 2006 and Heritage, also in AA, in 2009. The Panthers have also had three runner-up appearances in that span, coming in 2004, 2005 and 2010. They had advanced as far as the quarterfinals the past three years, including an elimination by Tattnall Square last year.

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