Game day for Cavaliers
Published 12:51 pm Monday, May 14, 2018
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
It doesn’t get any easier for the Callaway Cavaliers.
Last week, Callaway played a Thomasville team that ended the regular season ranked first in the Georgia Dugout Preview rankings.
In a series that went the full three games, it was Callaway getting the victory to reach the state semifinals for the first time since 2007.
After the teams split a doubleheader on Wednesday, Callaway won game three 9-6 to advance.
Now, Callaway is set for another big-time challenge.
Benedictine (27-6), a perennial state-championship contender, will visit Callaway for a best-of-three Class AA semifinal series.
The series was originally going to start on Tuesday, but the coaches for the schools decided to push things up a day because of the chance of rain.
So they’ll play a doubleheader today at 4:30 p.m. at Callaway, and if needed, a third and deciding game would be played on Tuesday, weather-permitting.
The team that comes out on top will advance to the state-championship series to play either Jeff Davis or Berrien County.
Callaway (26-10), regardless of what happens today, has enjoyed one of the finest seasons in the history of the program.
The Cavaliers are led by head coach Dusty Hubbard, who was also at the helm the last time the team made it to the semifinals in 2007.
Kyle Campbell, one of four seniors on the team, said the Cavaliers are a reflection of their coach.
“I think what it is about this group is we’ve taken on the personality of coach Hubbard,” Campbell said. “He’s pushed us to take on his attitude, his never-give-up attitude, and it has kind of rubbed off on all of us.”
Another one of the seniors, Buster Perry, said every one of the players has been committed to making the most out of this season.
“Everybody’s just giving it their hardest in practice and the games,” Perry said. “You can’t take a day off. You’ve got to work hard.”
It has been a complete team performance throughout the playoff run, with each player who has stepped onto the field doing something to lend a hand.
“Everybody on this team contributed and fought with everything they had,” senior Chandler Lott said after the Thomasville series.
Hubbard seconded that, and as an example he pointed to one of his players who was called upon to enter the game as a defensive substitute.
Austin Cardwell began the season getting significant playing time at second base, but that job eventually went to someone else.
Hubbard said Cardwell never hung his head, and in the most important game of the season, he was on the field for the final inning.
“(We have) guys people don’t see that keep working hard at practice,” Hubbard said. “For instance Austin Cardwell’s in the game at the end. It’s because he didn’t quit on himself in practice and kept working, and we believed in him. That’s what makes you happy as a coach, the guy that just keeps working.”
Another player who didn’t get much playing time in the regular season was Walt Stewart, but he played a massively important role in the Thomasville series.
In the second game, Stewart entered the game in relief and threw a perfect 10th inning to preserve a 3-2 victory. In the final game, Stewart was the starting pitcher, and he worked four successful innings in the 9-3 win.
If Callaway follows the pattern from the first three rounds of the playoffs, Chandler Lott and Wesley Marchman will pitch today’s games.
Marchman has started three playoff games and won two of them, and that included the second game of the Thomasville series when he threw nine brilliant innings in a 3-2 win.
Lott is 2-1 in the playoffs, and his best performance came when he threw a shutout in a 3-0 victory over Rabun County in the second round.
Left-hander Austin Barber has done a nice job in relief in a handful of playoff games, and Walt Stewart and Kyle Campbell have also pitched.
Dawson Wright is another guy who can pitch if needed, and he has started multiple games this season.
Offensively, Drake Wade has been a force from the leadoff positon, and he had two hits and an RBI in the series-clinching win over Thomasville.
Trent Sheppard holds down the number two spot in the order, and he scored a pair of runs in the final game against Thomasville.
Chandler Lott, who leads the team in batting average, hits third in the order, Braelin Mitchell is the cleanup hitter, and Kyle Campbell was in the five hole in the series finale against Thomasville.
Mitchell has come up huge in the playoffs with three home runs, and he had two hits and three RBIs in the clinching win over Thomasville.
Wesley Marchman, Brooks Bledsoe, Bryce Kurian, Jabari Smith, Destin Patrick and Buster Perry have also been effective hitters.
All of those players will likely need to perform at a high level if Callaway’s going to upend Benedictine.
While the Cavaliers are thrilled to be here, Chandler Lott said no one is satisfied.
“I don’t believe, and I know (my teammates) don’t believe, we’re done,” Lott said. “We’ve got a lot of fight left.