The Valdosta Daily Times
A four-run sixth inning and a dominating pitching performance pushed the Lowndes Vikings past the Ponte Vedra Sharks 4-1 Friday night in the Georgia/Florida Challenge at Lowndes’ Noel George Field.
The win was Lowndes’ first over Ponte Vedra in over two years.
After five innings of minimal offensive production, the Vikings (2-2) exploded against the Sharks’ pitching staff in the sixth inning. They scored all four of their runs with two outs, using five hits and a walk in the process.
Dalton Register started the rally, connecting on a two-run double to score Josh Day and Cam Buscher to give the Vikings a 2-1 lead. Then, Blake Smith singled to score Register, followed by a single by Garrett Fuller that scored Smith to make the score 4-1.
“We had some poor at-bats earlier, as a team,” Lowndes head coach Danny Redshaw said. “But we started seeing the ball and getting some good swings.”
Register’s hit was the biggest in the inning and the game. Lowndes had runners in scoring position and was just one out away from leaving more runners stranded — the Vikings left six stranded through the first five innings — and would have been forced to rally in the seventh.
Instead, Register drilled a hit down the left field line to score Day and Buescher and spark the Viking offense.
“(Dalton) had a big game for us,” Redshaw said. “He said he was going to go up there and do it before he did it.”
Lowndes’ big sixth inning provided offensive support to junior pitcher Cory Pope, who pitched the best game of his career Friday night. After earning a loss last weekend against La Salle, Pope came back against Ponte Vedra on point.
“(Pope) pitched a gem last Saturday and took a loss allowing three unearned runs,” Redshaw said. “He doesn’t throw it very hard but he pitches and he competes. He is a bulldog out there. It is good to see. We have a lot of pitchers on the shelf right now and he was worked his way to being one of our guys.”
The left-hander allowed just one run on three hits and struck out seven batters in a complete game victory Friday night, a strong performance on a night when the Vikings needed it the most.
“I just try to do my job and let the defense work,” said Pope, who admitted it was his curveball and changeup that confused batters all night. “I have confidence in our offense. Sometimes we are slow to start but we are always on our game when it comes down to the wire.”
Pope was aided by a strong defensive effort, something the Vikings have lacked through the early part of the season. Each time he allowed runners on base, the Vikings made a key out, turned a double play, or he recorded an inning-ending strikeout to get out of the little bit of trouble he was in.
“We made 11 errors through our first three ball games,” Redshaw. “If we could play defense we could easily be 4-0. But if cows had wings they’d fly.”
Ponte Vedra’s only run of the game came in the second inning on a double steal from first to second and third to home.
After starting the inning with a single, the Sharks moved their leadoff batter to second on a steal, who then advanced to third base on a wild pitch from Pope (1-1).
Then, with runners at the corner, the Sharks executed the double steal to perfection, getting Lowndes catcher Josh Day to throw to second and allowed the runner from third to score.
“We gave the run away,” Redshaw said. “Pope didn’t field his position and then we didn’t cover the bag. That was a giveaway run. You aren’t going to win close games against good teams. We knew it was coming. It was stuff we had worked on. You just have to execute and we didn’t.”
Besides that run, Ponte Vedra’s offense was minimal, sparking their play-by-play broadcast team to compare their cold temperatures to the bats being used in the game.
NOTES: Friday’s start was delayed for over 20 minutes after Mill Creek (Ga.) beat Providence (Fla.) 14-1.