It took them nine innings, but the Lowndes Vikings got their season-opening win.
The Vikings outlasted the hard-fighting Berrien Rebels 7-6 Wednesday night at the Wildcat Invitational at Valdosta High School, scoring a game-winning run in the top of the ninth inning.
“It is a good start,” Lowndes head coach Danny Redshaw said. “Fundamentally, we didn’t play well. We didn’t pitch it particularly well, didn’t field it well, left too many runners on base, but we did play hard. Berrien played hard. It is a good win. A good start to the season. But we have room for improvement.”
With the game tied 6-6 in the ninth inning, the Vikings managed the game-winning run when Henry Hoff scored on a Nic Higginbotham fielder’s choice grounder. The Vikings then allowed just one Rebel base runner to reach base in the bottom half of the inning, ending the game on a strikeout.
George Echwahl started the top of the ninth inning off with a single. He was immediately pinch-ran for by Hoff at first base. Blake Smith then laid down a bunt, causing Berrien catcher Shawn Witt to throw to second in an attempt to get the force out. Both runners were called safe.
The next at-bat, Hoff advanced to third on a deep fly ball out by Garrett Fuller, giving Lowndes runners at the corners with one out.
Hoff scored following the next at-bat when Higginbotham grounded into a fielder’s choice to second base.
Lowndes left 13 base runners stranded on Wednesday night, including seven in the first three innings. Berrien left 10 stranded, including a potential game-tying run in the bottom of the ninth inning.
“That is too many,” Redshaw said. “We have to take advantage of that. If we do that we don’t play nine innings. But that is baseball.”
Blake Smith earned the win on the hill for the Vikings. He pitched the final two innings of the game, and didn’t allow any runs on just two hits.
Reliever Corey Pope allowed two runs — coming in the fifth inning — while striking out nine batters and allowing just four hits in four innings of work. Dalton Register started the game and allowed four runs on four hits in three innings.
“I said we didn’t pitch it well, but Pope did,” Redshaw said. “He gave up those two runs that we probably shouldn’t have given up. That happens. But he did throw well.”
Berrien starter Dalton McMillan was pulled after three innings of work. He allowed five earned runs on five hits, while striking out five and walking five. He was replace by Joe McCranie, who had a much better outing.
Despite taking the loss, McCranie allowed two runs on four hits in six innings of work for the Rebels.
Higginbotham led the Vikings at the plate, finishing the day 3 for 5 with two runs scored. He scored the first run of the day in the first inning, scoring on an RBI single from catcher Josh Day.
After Lowndes left a pair of runners stranded in the first inning, Berrien got even in the bottom half of the inning. Dalton Ingram led the inning with a single, and advanced to third on the following two at bats. He scored on a throwing error to second base by Lowndes’ Day.
Lowndes took a 2-1 lead in the third inning, taking advantage of three walks in the inning thrown by McMillan. Day was walked to start the inning, followed by a hit from Cameron Buescher and a walk from Echwahl. With the bases loaded, Smith walked, scoring Day from third.
Berrien took the lead in the bottom of the third inning. The Rebels took advantage of a costly Viking error in the inning to score a pair of runs, adding another run later in the inning on a sacrifice fly by Taylor Griner.
After Ingram reached base on a single, followed by Logan Balkcom walk and a Hunter Garrett single, the Rebels used an error by Lowndes’ shortstop, David Wortham, to score Ingram and Balkcom from third and second.
The lead changed hands again in the top of the fourth inning. The Vikings scored three runs on just one hit, a Rebel error and a pair of walks. Higginbotham started the inning with a single, followed by an error by Griner that allowed Wortham to reach base.
Then, Ty Harwell and Day walked, scoring Higginbotham from third. The next at-bat, Buescher grounded to first but Wortham scored. Register then flew out to center field, scoring Harwell.
Lowndes held its 5-4 lead until the bottom of the fifth inning.
In the fifth, Berrien made Lowndes pay for a costly passed ball that came on the final out of the inning. After Pope managed a fly ball out and a strikeout — he allowed a walk and a single in between — to start the inning, he struck out Berrien’s Travis Branham to end the inning. But, the ball got passed Day and Branham reached base, extending the inning for the Rebels. The following at-bat, Devonte Bass singled to right field, scoring Witt.
The extended inning seemed to rattle Pope, even if for just a few minutes. Pope threw a wild pitch, scoring Griner from third, giving the Rebels a 6-5 lead.
“I thought fundamentally we would play better, but we did play hard” Redshaw said. “We have some things to work on. I said coming into the year that this bunch was going to fight. We have some good leadership, but they did play hard.”
Lowndes evened the score at 6-6 in the top of the sixth inning when Day scored on a single by Register; Day reached base on an error by McMillan at third base.
The Vikings had a chance in the top of the seventh inning to go ahead, but left runners stranded in scoring position. After Garrett Fuller reached base on an error by Griner at second, Wortham connected on a single to right center, moving Fuller to third base with two outs.
With the pressuring on, Harwell hit a hard grounder to third base but was thrown out at first to end the inning.
Berrien had the only chance to win the game in the eighth inning. After Lowndes went in 1-2-3-fashion, the Rebels got a runner to third base with two outs. Then, Garrett hit a hard-hit line drive to shortstop, looking as though the game was going to end. But, Wortham dove up in the air and to his right, making a leaping catch to end the inning.
For Berrien, Dalton Ingram finished 3 for 4 with 2 runs scored. Hunter Garrett finished two of five with a run scored.
It took them nine innings, but the Lowndes Vikings got their season-opening win.
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Milestones on tap for upcoming season
Some milestones are destined to occur, like when Georgia Christian hosts David Emanuel on Aug. 22 in the Generals’ first varsity football game since the late 1960s.
Others will have to wait and see what continues to take shape come Friday when teams can begin fall practice, and especially Aug. 1 when teams can suit up in pads for the first time, such as can Valdosta win its record 24th state title, or can Lowndes capture its fourth state championship under Randy McPherson, or can Valwood and coach Ashley Henderson play in its third straight GISA state championship game?
As we start to find out the answers to those questions in just a few short weeks — the regular season is just 31 days away — there should be a few more milestones for area coaches to mark 2014 right along with the Generals getting back on the gridiron.
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Wildcats participate in national 7-on-7 tournament
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With football summer workouts in full swing, occasionally the intensity and competitive drive can wane going against teammates. But on Friday, Valwood, Brookwood, Lanier County and Tiftarea Academy broke up the monotony by meeting at Goddard Field for a four-team, 7-on-7 passing league.
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But that doesn't mean the veteran coach doesn't enjoy the opportunity that a passing league, or the six-team passing camp at Cairo on Thursday morning, can provide his Rebels.
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