The Valdosta Daily Times
It didn’t look good for Valdosta High’s chances of completing a sweep of rival Lowndes on Friday.
The Wildcats, who had won 8-4 in Game 1 at Noel George Field, trailed by two runs and the first two hitters in the bottom of the seventh were retired. However, Lowndes committed its fifth error of the game and Nick Higginbotham suddenly lost control of the strike zone as the Wildcats staged a stunning rally to win 7-6.
“That’s just kind of the nature of this group, they’re not ever going to give up,” Valdosta coach Bart Shuman said. “We just played 14 hard innings tonight.
“Our guys just find a way to get on base and scrap and scrap and scrap.”
With two outs in the final inning, Seth Shuman reached when Lowndes shortstop Mason Miller booted the ground ball up the middle to spark the rally. Jacob McMillan and Richard Moseley then worked walks against Higginbotham, who had been pounding the strike zone since relieving an inning earlier. Then with the bases loaded, Higginbotham walked Austin Lieupo and David Posas to tie the game before Jud George relieved.
After falling behind 1-2, VHS senior and leading hitter Daniel Tefft battled until he laced a 2-2 single into left field and the Wildcats celebrating into the night.
“He’s been carrying us,” Bart Shuman added. “He gets two strikes on him and he battles and fouls a couple off, and then gets the big hit.
“We’ll take it. This is a big win for our program, and I’m proud of our guys. This is big.”
The Wildcats, who improved to 11-2 and 3-1 in Region 1-AAAAAA, trailed because their bats went cold against Henry Hoff and Higginbotham after a monster three-run home run from Craig Barry in the third. After that shot just to the left of the batter’s eye in center field, Valdosta managed just three hits as Hoff went five-plus innings and Higginbotham getting the Vikings out of a jam in the sixth when the first two Wildcats reached on errors.
“We didn’t play well,” Lowndes coach Danny Redshaw said. “We made five errors, we didn’t play well. We didn’t deserve to win.”
Despite those miscues, Lowndes led as its offense kept chipping away, scoring runs in four of the final five innings. George had sacrifice flies to drive in runs in the fifth and seventh as Miller twice reached on bunt singles, finishing 3-for-4 with two runs and an RBI. C.J. Johnson also had two hits and drove in the go-ahead run in the fifth with a single.
“It’s about making plays,” Redshaw added about what the Vikings (4-9, 1-5) need to learn from the gut-wrenching defeat.
That followed a first game where the Wildcats got another stellar start from their ace, Lieupo, and production from the bottom half of their lineup. Shuman and Logan Stephens sparked each of Valdosta’s three scoring rallies, with Shuman going 3-for-4 with a double, three RBIs and three runs scored. Stephens doubled twice and scored three runs as well.
“We’ve kind of been sharing that responsibility,” Bart Shuman said.
Back-to-back doubles from the duo tied the game in the fourth and Shuman then scored following a bunt from McMillan and a Moseley groundout that put the Wildcats ahead for good.
Valdosta tacked on two more runs an inning later and then four in the seventh before holding off a Lowndes rally in the bottom half.
Prior to that three-run inning from the Vikings, where Higginbotham had a two-run double, Lieupo shut down Lowndes as he finished with five hits and five walks allowed, striking out three.
“He’s just a competitor,” Shuman said. “He puts the ball in the strike zone and he does it all night. It’s nothing overpowering, but I’ll take it.”