TIFTON - Owen Manning crushed a solo home run and Tift County ran its 2020 record to 2-0 Wednesday night. The Blue Devils won 7-4 over Berrien in their home opener.
Tift already had a 4-3 lead when Manning led off the bottom of the third with a no-doubter that easily cleared the centerfield wall.
Teammates greeted Manning at home plate with lightsabers, a ceremony that head coach Kyle Kirk said developed last summer.
Bryce Stephens and Allen Moretz iced the win with runs in the fourth and sixth frames. Connor Vansumeren and Charlie Miller combined to allow three earned runs over seven innings.
Berrien scored two runs in the top of the first and was up 3-2 in the second. After that it was all Tift.
Bailey Booth started the bottom of the second with a single up the middle. With Lino Acosta in as the courtesy runner, Moretz walked and Stephens dinked a single to load the bases with one out.
Berrien's Jacob Dillard struck out his next man, but plunked Mason Avant with a pitch, bringing in Acosta. A wild pitch then scored Moretz.
Manning homered in the third, adding a tally to the lead. Further help soon came as Stephens literally stole a run.
Stephens, who terrorized Berrien pitching for three hits, singled in the fourth. He was nearly erased on a liner to second, but the throw back to the bag went wild and he moved up a base. Avant again felt the touch of a Berrien pitch to his body, putting both on.
Here, Kirk, called for a delayed double steal. Stephens took third without a throw, but the Rebels attempted to get Avant at second. He was safe and the ball bounced away for a brief second. That was all the speedy Stephens needed to get home.
"He had a good summer and a good fall," said Kirk of Stephens, who struggled at times at the plate in 2019. "I'm proud of him."
Cameron Sumner singled for Moretz in the sixth, then Moretz reentered as a pinch runner. Moving up on a steal and a long flyout, he was in perfect position to score on a sac fly by Gauge Domingue.
Berrien picked up one run in the seventh when Whit Shepard hit a sacrifice fly to bring in Griffin Rowe before Miller ended the game with a strikeout.
Vansumeren ran into trouble early in the contest.
"He had the yips early," said Kirk.
Berrien loaded the bases with its first three batters. Vansumeren soon took control, even as the Rebels took a lead.
A trip to the mound by pitching coach Taylor Barber helped calm the sophomore's nerves.
Travis Staley grounded out to second, scoring Kam Throneberry. The next batter, Kayden Everett, earned an RBI (bringing in Qrey Lott), but it, too, was a groundout. Vansumeren struck out the next man and was well on his way to settling in, especially as Tift notched two runs of their own.
Avant's sacrifice fly brought in Stephens and Manning singled in Domingue.
Berrien's third run was unearned after Tanner Griner reached on an error before Lott drove him in with a single.
"We had the start that we wanted," said Kirk.
The Blue Devils have home games scheduled Friday and Saturday as part of the Hornet Invitational (which will play some games at Devil Diamond). Tift will face Denmark Friday at 6:30 p.m. and Calhoun Saturday afternoon.