Darton State is the favorite in the Georgia Collegiate Athletic Conference playoff race, returning 19 players off last season’s conference championship team.
With the winner of the GCAA regular season hosting the super regional this year, it was critical that the Georgia Highlands baseball team have a good showing against Darton to keep itself in contention to host the super regional at LakePoint.
After a loss at home Tuesday and another loss at Darton Saturday, it appeared the Chargers would fall behind after just the first conference series of the season.
However, Georgia Highlands managed to sweep a doubleheader against Darton Sunday, splitting the four-game series and putting the Chargers in a strong position after the first week of conference play.
“It was big for several reasons. One, they were 10-1 at home this season. And here we can get two wins, and we got two in one day,” Georgia Highlands head coach Mike Marra said. “I can’t tell you the last time they were swept at home during a conference day. And then you look at it from a standpoint of we’re going to possibly see these guys eight times. We had a four-game conference series we just played. You’re probably going to see them twice in the conference tournament, and you might see them twice in the super regional if you’re fortunate enough to get there. So you may have eight games this year with these guys, and it’s just going to be that type of rivalry. So what we’ve done, we’ve shown we can beat them on their home field in a doubleheader situation. So it’s going to be a war getting through this rivalry this year. It just puts us in good shape.”
GHC lost the first game of the series Tuesday by a score of 5-2. A four-run sixth inning did the damage for Darton in that game. On Saturday, the Chargers went to Darton for their first road game of the season, losing 11-3. Once again, it was a big inning that was GHC’s undoing. The Chargers allowed a seven-run fourth and lost by a score of 11-3.
On Sunday, Georgia Highlands won by a score of 7-5 in the first game of the doubleheader. Cass alum Brandon Etheridge had his second multi-hit game of the series, adding three runs scored. Georgia Tech transfer Daniel Gooden had three hits and two RBIs in the game.
In Game 2, Etheridge hit a big two-run triple as part of a four-run second inning. A home run by Kennesaw State transfer Drew Davis in the third inning gave the Chargers a 5-0 lead, and they would hold on for a 5-4 win.
“[Catcher] Drew Davis was the star of the weekend. He came out of his shell for whatever reason,” Marra said. “He hit .500 on the weekend — 7-for-14, hit the home run and had four RBIs. He had a great weekend. Tuesday night, he threw out two would-be baserunners in the first inning and they never tried to steal the rest of the series. So he shut down the running game. He was a big piece of what we did offensively. He really showed why we brought him in.”
Marra was particularly pleased with his team scoring a combined 12 runs in the two games against Darton’s strong pitching staff.
“As Bill Belichick would say, we played well in all three phases,” Marra said. “We hit the ball. We hit .319 for the three games. We scored some key runs in the weekend. On Sunday, for whatever reason, it just all started clicking.”
Marra was impressed with Darton’s lineup over the course of the series.
“They give you tough at bats from a hitting standpoint. We were gritty, but there’s no easy out in that lineup,” he said of Darton. “I think we averaged 20-22 pitches an inning. They just grinded out at bats, and give our guys credit, [Bryan] Quillens pitched his butt off the first game. We would score two, they would score one. We would scored three, they would score two. We just couldn’t put a zero up after we scored, which was frustrating for me.”
Georgia Highlands is now 17-15 overall and will open their second conference series with a road game today at East Georgia.