Tifton Gazette


May 1, 2014

Tift hosts Tri-Cities in doubleheader

TIFTON — Sweet home. The Tift County Blue Devils baseball team will be there today. Boasting of a 20-4-1 record and Region 1-AAAAAA runner-up status, they host the Tri-Cities Bulldogs in the first round of the state playoffs starting at 4:30 p.m. If the team cannot sweep, a third game will be played Saturday afternoon.

The situation is quite a change from last year and head coach Kyle Kirk might be the happiest man in the land.

A No. 4 seed a year ago, they nearly had to set up residence in metro Atlanta. In a two-week span, they had to make trips to McEachern, Newnan and Walton. The latter is what finally did them in in the quarterfinals. All three series went to their three-game limit.

This year? It's a bit of a break. "We get at least one (series) at home," he said. If Tift advances, they play the winner of Kennesaw Mountain and Alcovy. Alcovy is a No. 4 and would be played here, Kennesaw is a No. 1 and that would be on the road. Kirk is admittedly an Alcovy fan today.

As has all week for all sports, the rain may be a factor. Kirk is not just concerned for his field, but also about a bus full of Bulldogs. They are planning to leave East Point at 9 a.m., Sympathetic to his own plight a year ago, he said would hate to have to call them on I-75 to tell them to turn around.

He knows a bit about his opponent. "They're a very good ball team," he said, "a very athletic team." Of their roster, pitcher Antwain Booker particularly stood out to him.

The Bulldogs have won their last six contests. That is a better current streak than the Blue Devils, who won three straight. Kirk likes where his team is currently.

"I think we're good going in," he said. "We had some big wins over Camden and at Crisp." The Camden wins secured their position, giving them the first round at home. Crisp won their region. A previous game against them, played up at Turner Field in Atlanta, ended in a 4-4 tie.

As much as the rain has been a nuisance, Kirk called it "a blessing." He said the squad had been able to work on their swings in the batting cage. His approach has worked so far. The team is averaging 7.6 runs per game and has yet to be shut out. Offense has come from nearly every spot in the order. A typical Devil lineup starts Zeke Dodson, Jonah Reyes, Briggs Benson, Alex Abbott, Blake Suggs, Will Reinhardt, Zack Bullard, Patrick Watson and Ryan Ross.

A large amount of credit, he said, goes to his seniors. "The seniors have been huge," he said. So big, "even our juniors have been tough. This is a class I'll miss." It is the second year of great leadership from the top. Kirk said Bobby Hughes and other seniors last year were a big asset.

The GHSA lists Tri-Cities as having an 8-13 record, with all wins coming within the region. A look at prior years shows a program gradually on the rise. They won nine last year, but missed out on the playoffs. Kirk said they had upset Westlake to slide in as the No. 3.

Tri-Cities was once many different schools. Shifting area populations saw Headland and Westwood combine in 1982 into Woodland. Woodland only made it six years; it, College Park, Hapeville and Russell created Tri-Cities in 1988. There was a rich baseball history in its past. Headland won three state titles. A quick look at the GHSA's historical records indicates this is the first ever state tournament appearance for the Bulldogs.

Deviner McCray has drawn the assignment as the game one starter, with Bullard scheduled to go in the nightcap. If the series goes to a third game, Kirk said he has yet to make a decision on a starter, but said it might be Reinhardt, Benson or Connor Thomas.

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