DARTON’S LAST AT-BAT: Walk-off win sends Cavaliers to first (and last) trip to GJ
Darton State College (Georgia) is making its first — and last — appearance in the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.
The Cavaliers have made strides toward being a national-title contender in recent years and made it all the way to the East Central District tournament title game in 2015, before breaking through this year.
Back in December, it was announced that this would be the program’s final season. Darton is merging with Albany State after the academic year because of declining enrollments at both schools.
Merging two schools, however, meant the junior college baseball team had to go. But before the program goes away, the Cavaliers will come to Grand Junction to play in the national tournament they’d talked about playing in well before this season’s first pitch.
“We brought it up as soon as we found out,” said Darton coach Scot Hemmings, who was told in December after the school merger was finalized a month earlier. “I told them we’ve been dealt a bad hand, and it’s nothing that we can control. But we can control what we do on the field and, if we stay locked in to this program, we have a chance to get to Grand Junction.”
The Cavaliers qualified for JUCO in a most dramatic way, using a bases-loaded, walk-off single from freshman Denzell Gowdy down the left-field line. That hit capped Darton’s rally from a three-run deficit in its 6-5 victory against Dyersburg State in the final game to ever be played at its home field in Albany.
After Darton took two of three games in the beginning of March against last year’s national champion, Northwest Florida State, Raiders coach Doug Martin told the Cavs in a post-series talk he thought they had what it takes to win a national title.
“That was awesome for him to come over and say that to the guys,” said Hemmings, who this year was the Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association coach of the year. “You talk about how you want to get there and you hear things about how awesome it is, and we could write a book about our season if we wound up winning a national title.”
Next season Hemmings will take over as the head baseball coach at Albany State, an NCAA Division II school. Many of Darton’s players have been given the option of staying on at Albany State, but some have already committed to NCAA Division I schools.
Among them is sophomore pitcher Jeremy Beasley, who has 68 strikeouts in 90 1/3 innings. The Cavaliers’ staff ace will pitch at Clemson next season. Also headed to a Division I school is Rabon Martin, who has a 3.83 ERA and will play at Louisville next year.
Sophomore catcher John Cable, who was selected the GCAA Player of the Year, has a .398 batting average and 64 RBI. He’s headed to the University of New Orleans and sophomore Michael Huggins is slated to play for Georgia State in 2017.
Sophomore Colton Thomas leads the team with 28 stolen bases. Gowdy is the team’s leader in both home runs and RBI.
Darton’s roster is built on speed, and Hemmings said there are four players in the lineup who can run at least a 6.6-second 60-yard dash. Hemmings added that the Cavs’ combination of speed and power, along with a pitching staff with plenty of depth, will be key in helping Darton try to extend its final baseball season even longer.
“We’ve dogpiled an awful lot here lately,” the coach said with a laugh. “But we’re going to go up against some great teams when we get there. It’ll be a lot harder to (dogpile) again.”