Valdosta Daily Times

March 15, 2014

Bold move pays off for Vikings, who split with Blue Devils

Derrick Davis
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Staring at a 4-0 hole, in the midst of a streak of 10 consecutive outs, Lowndes coach Danny Redshaw made a bold move, inserting .071-hitting Tyler Thompson as a pinch-hitter to lead off the bottom of the fifth against Tift County’s cruising Zack Ballard.

As they say, fortune favors the bold; Thompson's single jump-started the Vikings offense which would score six runs in the inning en route to a 8-4 victory in Game 1 of Friday's doubleheader. Tift rebounded to win the second game 6-0.

"To be honest with you, we had to get Jud George loose in the bullpen, and we didn't know if he'd have time to do it," said Redshaw. "Thompson's been swinging the bat well in practice here lately, he's a senior, it's time to give him another shot, and he came through. That kind of snowballed with the rest of the team."

Thompson, a senior outfielder, came into Friday 1-14 on the season before he stepped up to the plate and shot a rocket back at Ballard for Lowndes' first baserunner since the first inning. Thompson would be called out at second base on a fielder's choice, but the spark was ignited.

Cody Harwell walked to give the Vikings runners at first and second and a Henry Hoff single loaded the bases before Nick Higginbottom plated Lowndes' first run of the game with a single to cut the Blue Devils’ lead to three. Harwell scored the second run of the inning on a wild pitch and Mason Miller completed the comeback, bringing in two runners with a single of his own.

The fifth straight Vikings batter to reach base in the fifth would give Lowndes its first lead of the game at 5-4 when Cole Bradley laced a double into left field. Buck Carter grounded out for the second out of the inning, but Andy Perkins brought home one more runner before the end of the inning as Lowndes took a 6-4 lead.

Hoff relieved starter Corey Pope to begin the sixth inning and shut down a Tift County team averaging more than 9.5 runs per game. Pope labored through five tough innings allowing four runs, including Blake Suggs' two-run homer, but Hoff looked at ease as he sat the Blue Devils down in order in the sixth inning to preserve the Vikings' two-run lead.

"(Hoff) did a good job keeping us off balance," said Tift County coach Kyle Kirk. "The kid's a great pitcher, I mean, it's Lowndes, they're well-coached, they're a good ball team.

"They just kind of pitched us backwards and we didn't make the adjustments that we know how to make. But we learned a lot tonight about ourselves."

Lowndes had no interest in holding at a two-run lead against 9-0 Tift Couny, Harwell drew another walk before Higginbottom drove in his second run of the game for a 7-4 lead.

The Vikings gave themselves a four-run cushion before the conclusion of the inning thanks to another Miller RBI — his third of the game — but it wouldn't be necessary as Hoff allowed just one base runner in the top of the seventh to secure Lowndes' first region win of the year to move to 4-6.

The beginning of the second game of Friday's doubleheader looked very similar to the first game as Tift County jumped out to an early 4-0 lead with help from the long ball.

Where as it was Suggs going deep in the early game, it was Alex Abbott providing the monster shot for the Blue Devils in Game 2 — Abbott crushed a three-run home run down the right-field line to go up 3-0 in the bottom of the first. The next batter Briggs Benson followed suit, muscling the ball over the left-field fence for back-to-back home runs and a 4-0 lead.

"They swing the bats well, as good as anyone we've seen," said Redshaw. "You just gotta make quality pitches. Those guys, Abbott and Benson, they swing the bat well, you can't make a mistake against them."

Unlike Game 1, Tift County's offense continued to add to its early lead as Zeke Dodson connected for a solo homer in the second inning and another in the fifth as the Blue Devils pushed six runs across the plate in Game 2.

"That was huge," Kirk said of Dodson's home runs. "We always try to set a goal — our magic number is seven. Six or seven runs a game, we know if we hit that we'll be in good shape.

"We would have liked to add some more on at the end, just to get some extra insurance because you never know with the way these guys swing the bats."

Similarities to Game 1 were also apparent in Lowndes' performance in the second game, as nine consecutive Vikings failed to reach base, including six strikeouts, but again, there was one key difference in the two games, Lowndes' bats never came alive in the nightcap.

The Vikings' Game 1 spark, Thompson started the game in the outfield, but Lowndes could not duplicate its late-game heroics this time. Deviner McCray threw a complete game, holding Lowndes scoreless for the second time this season.