The season could not have gotten off to a better start for the Georgia Highlands baseball team.
The Chargers swept a four-game series over the weekend against Surry Community College at LakePoint, outscoring Surry by a combined 21 runs in the four games.
“It was a great series,” Georgia Highlands head coach Mike Marra said. “It was a good way to start the season because we got a look at pretty much the whole roster. I think all but two pitchers got action on the weekend. We got to see all the position guys and most of the pitching staff. ... We made very few mistakes all the way around. I thought we did a lot of good things offensively, defensively, pitching and baserunning. It was just a good way to start.”
Georgia Highlands won by scores of 4-2, 10-0, 5-1 and 7-2. The Chargers trailed for all of two innings in the four games. The pitching staff was particularly impressive as GHC allowed just five runs in 32 innings.
“The pitching was just outstanding,” Marra said. “We had 41 strikeouts in the 32 innings and 14 walks. The ERA for the weekend was 1.13. So it was just a lot of good things, threw a lot of strikes. [Georgia Tech transfer Daniel] Gooden had six strikeouts and five walks, but other than that, we had nobody over two walks. So it was good to see everybody perform and compete at a pretty good level, especially at the beginning of the season.”
At the plate, Devin Bilardello hit out of the No. 6 spot in the order and went 7-for-11 with three triples and a home run, adding five RBIs and three runs scored. Andrew Cooley went 6-for-11, also batting toward the bottom of the order, hitting a triple with three RBIs and two runs scored. Freshman third baseman Brandon Bell hit out of the leadoff spot and went 6-for-12 with two doubles, a triple, one walk and five runs scored.
“We got great production from the bottom of the order. Three, 4, 5 didn’t do anything special, but 6, 7 and 8 had a big weekend,” Marra said of his lineup. “Brandon Bell, who we had a lot of high hopes for coming into the season, hit .500. So we had some guys really step up through the lineup.”
Former Cass players Brandon Etheridge and Bradley Hood were the only two available players from Bartow County high schools. Hood threw one pitch for one out in middle relief, getting the Chargers out of a jam with two runners on base and two outs. Etheridge, meanwhile, went 5-for-14 in the series with three walks, three runs scored and an RBI.
“Brandon was actually the only one that played every game just because we were short in the outfield,” Marra said. “He did a nice job. He puts the ball in play. He runs well. He bats second for us. He hit in a couple of rallies where he did some good things. So he actually had a really good series.”
Marra said his team will face better competition moving forward, but is still pleased with the sweep in the opening series.
“They’re not the ’27 Yankees by any stretch,” Marra said of Surry. “I told the guys that. Talent-wise, we were better on paper. We came in and did what we were supposed to do. We dominated them from a pitching standpoint. I still don’t think we’re a high-end team from a hitting standpoint, but I do think we’re pretty deep on the pitching.
“I kind of expected our pitching to dominate. On the other side, I would say they had one good pitcher, and we were down 2-0 in the sixth inning [of Game 4] before we got three in the sixth and four in the seventh to win that game. But otherwise, they were in total control of that game from a pitching standpoint.”
Georgia Highlands will have a much bigger test in the upcoming weekend as two perennial JUCO powerhouses, Chattanooga State and Walters State, come to LakePoint.
“We’ll have our hands full this weekend,” Marra said. “We have Chattanooga State Thursday, Walters State over the weekend. Both teams played in the super regional last year. Walters State represented our region in the World Series. So it’ll be a much bigger test this weekend, but I certainly liked what I saw this past weekend.”
Marra said his message to his team this week in practice will be to stay focused.
“To see it all kind of come together in the first weekend of playing was pretty impressive to me because it usually takes a little bit to get rolling. But like I told them, ‘You haven’t accomplished anything yet,’” Marra said. “‘Now you’re going to get a real test with two teams that played in the super regional last year that are two perennial powers in Tennessee, which for us to get to [the World Series], we’re going to have to get through one of these teams in Tennessee.’ It’s kind of like a preseason NIT kind of thing where you get to face teams you’re going to go up against in the postseason early in the season. So it’ll give us a good challenge.”