Valdosta Daily Times

March 15, 2013

Wildcats begin region play tonight vs. Packers

Christian Malone
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Valdosta’s baseball team starts region play tonight, when it travels to Moultrie to face longtime region rival Colquitt County.

Game 1 of today’s doubleheader begins at 4:30 p.m.

Valdosta head coach Bart Shuman hopes the Wildcats can get off to a strong start in region play.

“It’s very important, especially when you’ve got to go on the road to play one of the better teams in the region,” Shuman said. “If we can slip in there and get us one, maybe two (wins), that would put us in great shape early.”

The Wildcats enter tonight’s game with a three-game winning streak.

“We’ve been playing decent the last few ball games,” Shuman said. “I think we’re still trying to find ourselves, and trying to find a starting lineup and who we can depend on and who can pitch for us.”

Senior right-hander Zach Newham will start one of today’s games on the mound for Valdosta. On Thursday, Shuman said he has not decided who will start the other game.

“If it’s close, we’ll throw everybody we’ve got at them to win,” Shuman said.

“It’s really just going to be how long we can maintain some consistent baseball tomorrow,” Valdosta’s coach added. “If we can hang in there, throw strikes and play defense (we’ve got a chance). If we have to get beat by a BBCOR bat, my hat’s off to you. Let’s just don’t walk them and don’t kick it around. ... If we’ve got a chance to make an out, we need to make that out.”

The Wildcats are the last team in 1-6A to play a region game. The other six teams all began region play last Friday. But the extra seven days may have been beneficial for Valdosta, which started the season 0-4 but has won its last three games.

During their winning streak, the Wildcats have been pounding the baseball. They scored 11 runs in their win over Lake City (Fla.) Columbia last Thursday, they got 17 runs when they beat Live Oak (Fla.) Suwannee last Saturday and scored 14 runs in their most recent game, a win over Madison County (Fla.) on Monday.

“We’re scoring runs,” Shuman said. “At times, we get some decent pitching. We’ve played some decent defense sometimes.”

This is the first year that Region 1 teams have played doubleheaders. In the past, the Wildcats and the Packers would have played one game in Valdosta and one game in Moultrie on separate days. But now that Camden County and Brunswick have joined the region, the decision was made to have the teams play doubleheaders to save on travel costs.

“It’ll be a big difference,” Shuman said. “Management of your pitching staff, being on the field that long and maintaining focus throughout the doubleheader (are some of the challenges). Overcoming a win or a loss after game 1 is another factor. If you lose, you’ve got to get over it; if you win, you’ve got to keep the momentum going. It’ll be a big change.”

Colquitt County enters today’s doubleheader with a 3-3 record. The Packers won their first two region games last Friday, routing Brunswick 14-5 and 11-1, but they lost 8-6 to Crisp County on Wednesday.

“Moultrie’s just solid all over,” Shuman said. “They’ll have ballplayers at every position. (They can) hit one through nine.”

The Packers’ star player is ambidextrous pitcher Aubrey McCarty, who signed with Vanderbilt in November. McCarty usually pitches right-handed to right-handed batters and left-handed to left-handed batters. At one point last year, McCarty pitched a game right-handed on a Tuesday and another one left-handed on Friday, then after being taken out of the second game (against Valdosta), he went from being a left-handed pitcher to being a right-handed first baseman.

“He’s been starting for three years. He’s a great ballplayer,” Shuman said.