VALDOSTA -- The master plan unfolded to perfection for Lowndes on Friday. Meanwhile, Valdosta is going back to the drawing board.
Lowndes coach Danny Redshaw tabbed junior Brandon Waller as the Vikings ace entering the season. However, he came into the cross-town matchup having pitched only 13 innings this season, fourth on the team.
The right-hander reaffirmed his coach's confidence with a three-hit shutout against the Wildcats on Friday, not allowing a runner to reach third base as the Vikings thumped their rivals, 7-0. The Wildcats (10-5) slumped to 0-3 in Region 1-AAAAA, surrendering four unearned runs to spoil a solid outing from lefty Drew Ruttinger (4-2).
"We're hitting a little bit of a slump, but all of us are confident we're going to come back out of this," Ruttinger said.
The Vikings (11-5) are brimming with confidence while sitting at the top of the region standings at 3-0. The team is ranked No. 4 in the state and has won six of its past seven games. After losing a controversial three-game set to state runner-up East Coweta a year ago, the Vikings feel primed to make a strong run at this year's AAAAA championship.
The point would be hard to argue after watching Waller (3-0) stonewall the Wildcats for seven innings. He allowed a walk and an infield single in the first, then retired the side in order in three of the next four innings. He struck out six and walked two, throwing 99 pitches in his fifth start of the season.
"I don't expect it," said Waller of his three-hit shutout, "but all I need is to go out there and throw the best I can."
However, his coach argued that the capacity crowd didn't see Waller's best yet.
"He didn't have his good stuff (Friday), believe it or not," Redshaw said. "Changeup wasn't there, and his curveball is his best pitch. He probably didn't throw four curveballs for strikes. But, he's got such good movement on his fastball, he kept them off-balance."
Ruttinger would have matched zeros with Waller, but a couple of errors deflated the 'Cats. After Waller singled with one out in the first, Corey Nichols lined a single to right that bounced under Daniel Fowler's glove, allowing courtesy runner Jermel Demps to score all the way from first.
Nichols became a constant thorn to VHS, doubling home two runs in the fourth after first baseman Jim Martin dropped a pop-up that could have been the second out in the inning. After going 3-for-3 against Ruttinger, the Vikings' left-handed DH lined a two-run double off reliever Scott Shuman in the sixth, driving home two more runs before scoring Lowndes' seventh run on a wild pitch. Nichols, who is tied for the area lead in home runs with four, upped his average to .450 with 19 RBI in 16 games.
"It feels great because we were looking forward to this one, and we wanted a big win," Nichols said.
- Region 1-AAAAA standings
Houston Co. 2-1
Tift Co. 1-1
Colquitt Co. 1-1
Coffee Co. 1-2
Lowndes 7, Valdosta 0
Houston Co. 4, Colquitt Co. 0
Tifto Co. 10, Coffee Co. 6
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