TIFTON - For the last couple of baseball seasons the Tift County team has struggled on the mound while there has been adequate depth in the field. This season the situation is reversed.

"This season we don't have much depth, but we do have 10 or 11 who can play," said Tift head baseball coach Rusty Smith, "we hope to be pretty deep with our pitching.

"During the last four or five years we've pretty much gone with one guy on the mound. This year we have three, maybe four who are legitimate."

Senior Nick Green will be the starter when the Blue Devils open their 2002 campaign Monday in the annual Devil Diamond Classic against the Thomas County Central Yellow Jackets.

Joining Green in the rotation will be juniors Blake Wright and Justin Deberry. Sophomore Matt Shurling will also be a welcome addition to the Blue Devil pitching staff.

"Matt Shurling has been a pleasant surprise," Smith said. "He had a great ninth grade season and a great summer."

The other half of the battery will be junior catcher Luke Gordon who was named All-Region in 2001.

Returning to the infield will be senior Chad Ward at third base. Senior Heath Miller will share time at second with sophomore Matt Davis. Senior Russ Richardson will man first.

When he is not pitching, Wright will be a shortstop.

Deberry will be the starting left fielder when he is not on the mound. Seniors Jason Dixon and Brett Beasley will be in center and right, respectively.

"Our goal this season is to make the playoffs," said Smith. "If we can do that, then anything can happen.

"It's like the old saying, we're going to take them one game at a time."

The Devil Diamond Classic will be played Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Tift's game with Central begins at 6 p.m. following a 4 p.m. game between Randolph-Clay and Colquitt County.

Wednesday Colquitt plays Central at 4 p.m. Tift plays Randolph-Clay at 6 p.m. Friday's games will pit Randolph-Clay and Central at 4 p.m. and Tift and Colquitt at 6 p.m.

Saturday the championship will be played. The two teams with the best record will play at 3 p.m. following the consolation game at noon.

Smith knows that once again the region will be very competitive.

"In the last five years the region has produced two state champions," said Smith, "and last year we had the state runnerup.

"In the last four years we've had two teams in the final four."

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