TIFTON — The future is bright for Tiftarea Academy baseball. Not just in 2021 or 2022, but in years to come. The middle school team, coached by Tim Harris, won their conference championship recently in an undefeated season.
The Panthers defeated Brookwood in the finale, 13-5. Brookwood led 5-3 in the fifth inning before Tiftarea put on its hitting shoes. The bottom of the order came through and Harris recalled that six of his next seven batters got hits. A light rain fell throughout the game.
“It was a total team effort,” he said. Harris said no individuals stood out above the others; all on the roster contributed to their success.
Harris said it has been a tremendous transformation from when they joined as sixth graders. “They’ve stuck with it, they’ve worked hard and have been faithful coming to practice,” he said. The growth is even bigger, considering that a big chunk of the season was canceled.
Three games into 2020, Harris felt they had hit their “sweet spot,” having beaten a team 8-3 that had defeated them one day earlier. Then came COVID-19. “I got the notice then that our season was over.”
Harris knows well how much young people change mentally and physically, especially during their young teens. He’s spent 40 years in the coaching field.
“We ask our kids to do something that’s pretty tough,” he said. “Our league demands we play on a full-size field.” That is a challenge on many of the sixth graders. “It looks like a mile to the plate and two miles to first base.”
They get no breaks on equipment. The bats are big and mighty, whereas most of the hands and biceps supporting them have a ways to go. Further obstacles come from travel ball, Harris said, as some of those teams and leagues do not use full-sized dimensions.
Despite this, Harris said in a pair of five-inning doubleheaders, he used nine pitchers effectively.
“I believe struggling through as sixth graders really helps them as seventh and eighth graders,” he said.
Defense was solid for the Panthers. Hitting was fine. “Our Achilles’ heel,” said Harris, “We call him, ‘The Secret Invader, BOB’.” BOB stands for bases on balls, a sworn enemy for pitching in every level of the game.
While BOB made his visits to the Tiftarea pitching staff, he did not do too much damage. The Panthers kept outscoring teams and were rarely close.
“These kids are having to make a great transition,” he said. The Gold group of Panthers won the title. Harris also coaches a Blue group, which mainly focuses on fundamentals.
Tiftarea’s middle school should be just fine next year. Harris said they counted on about four seventh graders to make a difference.
Team members are: Brodie Law, Logan Floyd, Jackson Parrish, Keegan Acord, Jacob Jones, John Robert Walker, Winston Lamb, Fletcher Walker, Jackson Gray, Jake Kendrick, Jude Bailey, John Jackson, Brody Seagraves, Jack Brand, Cody Griffin and Charlie Burke.