Cavs look to take another step

By Kevin Eckleberry

May 6, 2014

They’re not satisfied.

It has already been an exceptional season for the Callaway Cavaliers, who’ll carry a 22-5 record into today’s state-playoff showdown against Appling County.

As much fun as the season has been, though, the Cavaliers won’t be satisfied unless they’re the last team standing in Class AAAA.

“They believe they can win the thing. They really do,” Callaway coach Dusty Hubbard said. “And that goes a long way. I really believe if they get down, they don’t believe they’re ever out of a game. And that’s good.”

The road to a championship obviously won’t be an easy one.

There are plenty of outstanding teams remaining in Class AAAA, including an Appling County squad that knows what it’s like to be the last man standing.

In 2012, Appling County won a state championship.

If Callaway is able to get past Appling County, it could end up playing Cartersville, which has won numerous state titles over the past decade, in the quarterfinals.

“There are 16 teams that believe the same thing right now,” Hubbard said.

Appling County will present more of a challenge than Central-Macon, which came into the state playoffs with a losing record and was badly outmatched against Callaway.

Appling County isn’t the same team it was two years ago when it won it all with one of the state’s best players in Byron Buxton leading the way, but it is still an extremely capable ballclub.

The Pirates are 20-9, and they’re coming off a tough opening-round series against Dodge County.

After the teams split the first two games, Appling County held on for a 3-2 victory in the third and deciding game.

Dodge County had runners on first and third with one out in the seventh inning, but Appling County turned a double play to end it.

“ I thought they played really good,” Hubbard said. “Offensively, they struggled a little bit, but defensivley they made every play.”

It’s a team, Hubbard said, that is used to facing the sort of pressure that comes with playoff baseball.

“They’re not going to give games away, they’re not going to be overwhelmed, they’re not happy to be here,” Hubbard said. “You’re going to have to scrap and fight for everything you get. They’re sound. They understand how to play the game.”

The same goes for the Cavaliers, who are also used to being in the state playoffs.

Two years ago, the Cavaliers made it to the state quarterfinals, and many of the current players were a part of that team.

Last year, after beating Southeast Bulloch in the first round, Callaway lost to Dodge County in the second round in a series that went to a third game.

Hubbard figures this team is better equipped to make a deep playoff run.

“I feel like we’re much deeper pitching wise, and we’re probably a lot more athletic,” Hubbard said. “And I think this team has a little more pop, too. We’ve got some guys that can hit the ball out of the park in some big situations. We really didn’t have that last year.”

Hubbard also believes the players who got a lot of playing time a year ago learned a lot from the playoff experience.

“All those guys made great strides. Being put in that situation last year was good for them,” Hubbard said. “I think understanding the game, and understanding the things we did to lose those games. These kids see that.”

The Cavaliers are a complete team.

They’ve got a team batting average of .327, and they’re averaging 7.6 runs per game.

Senior Nick O’Berry has a batting average of .364, best among the every-day players, and he also leads the team with 20 RBIs.

Perry Keith is hitting .362, and he has nine RBIs, Cody Mimbs is hitting .348 with 11 RBIs, and C.J. Gallatin is hitting .340 with 10 RBIs, and two of his three home runs came in the playoff series against Central-Macon.

Chase Freeman has had a big senior season with a .339 batting average and 18 RBIs, and he has five of the team’s 11 home runs.

Cortney Laye is hitting .327 with nine RBIs, and Austin Garrett is hitting .304, and he anchors the infield defense from his shortstop position.

Mason Henrdrix is hitting .333 with nine RBIs while playing on a part-time basis, and Kevin Craft - who has only played in seven games because of a back injury - is hitting .375.

Terry Godwin is hitting .286, and he is in double digits with 13 RBIs, and Colby Freeman has a .273 average, and he has knocked in seven runs.

Freshman Dylan Johnson, meanwhile, has 10 RBIs.

Callaway’s pitching has also been superb.

The Cavaliers have a team earned run average of 2.02, and starters O’Berry, Keith and Mimbs have combined for 14 wins.

Godwin and Johnson have three wins apiece.