New season for Cavaliers

Published 2:09 am Wednesday, April 24, 2019


Daily News

They’re starting over.

The Callaway Cavaliers have enjoyed another successful regular season under head coach Dusty Hubbard, posting a 17-12 record while finishing second in Region 5-AA.

Like every other team participating in the state playoffs, though, the slate has been wiped clean for Callaway.

Banks County, the number three team from Region 8-AA, will visit Callaway in the first round.

They’ll play a doubleheader on Wednesday starting at 5 p.m., and if needed, a third and deciding game would be played on Thursday.

“Everybody’s starting over at 0-0,” Hubbard said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re 30-0, or if you got in and you’re 10-20. You’ve got a shot. And that’s what’s so great about it.”

Playoff time has been kind to the Cavaliers over the years.

The Cavaliers have made numerous deep trips into the playoffs under Hubbard and his predecessors, and last season they were one victory away from playing for a state championship.

In the Class AA semifinals, Callaway lost the third and deciding game of its series with Benedictine 13-5.

Benedictine went on to beat Berrien to win the state title.

While some of the key players from that team graduated, there are plenty of current Cavaliers who were a part of that special group.

“We’ve got some guys that have been in this situation, and we’ve got some that haven’t,” Hubbard said. “That’s only as good as how you play that day. I always hear people say experience, experience, but I’ll tell you this, I’d rather have talent over experience.”

It has been an up-and-down season for the Cavaliers.

When Callaway has been at its best, it has beaten quality teams like Bremen, Heard County, Lamar County and LaGrange.

Callaway has also struggled at times, and Hubbard’s hope is that the “good” version of the team will show up for the playoffs.

“It basically boils down to who plays best on that day is going to win,” Hubbard said. “It’s throwing strikes, and playing defense, and getting timely hits, and running the bases.”

The Cavaliers made their run at a title last season in large part because of the excellence of the pitching.

Chandler Lott and Wesley Marchman were lock-down starting pitchers who handcuffed some potent lineups in the playoffs.

Lott has graduated, and while Marchman has played this season, he has been unable to pitch because of arm injury.

One of Callaway’s veteran pitchers, Dawson Wright, has shown the ability to get it done in big-game settings.

Against a Bremen team that went on to win the region championship, Stewart threw a complete-game four-hitter.

Another pitching standout for the Cavaliers is freshman Justin Moore, who has been an anchor of the staff.

Senior Walt Stewart, who started game three of the state semifinal series last year, has also been a regular starter.

Hubbard said the key, no matter who is pitching, is to limit the number of free base runners.

“The biggest thing is, you have to have guys go out and throw strikes,” Hubbard said. “You look at 90 percent of big innings occur with walks and hit batters. We’ve got to limit big innings, and catch outs. We don’t necessarily have to make great plays.”

Offensively, the Cavaliers have scored runs.

Despite the occasional game where they weren’t able to get the bats going, the Cavaliers are averaging more than seven runs per game.

It starts with the man at the top of the lineup, senior Drake Wade.

When Wade gets on base, something that happens often, he usually makes things happen jump-starts a rally.

“He’s going to force it, sometimes to a detriment,” Hubbard said of Wade’s aggressiveness on the base paths. “When it works, people don’t remember it as much as when it doesn’t.”

While the players may run themselves into outs occasionally, Hubbard encourages them to force the issue.

“A lot of times you can force errors based on the aggression you play with,” Hubbard said. “That’s kind of what we look to do.”

Wesley Marchman, Trent Sheppard, Braelin Mitchell, who all started and were productive hitters last season, have helped anchor this year’s lineup.  Jabari Smith, Destin Patrick, Brooks Bledsoe and Bryce Kurian also bring a veteran presence to the lineup, and newcomers Andrew Locke, Justin Moore and Luke Swann have provided a spark.

In a key 13-2 win over Heard County that clinched the region’s number two spot, Swann had three hits and four RBIs.

“Hitting is always a little up and down, and that has a lot to do with who you face,” Hubbard said. “But what we’ve got to do is we’ve got to be consistent defensively and pitching.”

Banks County is a solid ballclub.

The Leopards have a 22-6 record, and they’ve scored twice as many runs as their opponents.

Banks County had an opportunity to win the region title, but it lost two games to Elbert County on Saturday to drop out of first.

“It basically boils down to who plays best on that day is going to win,” Hubbard said. “It’s throwing strikes, and playing defense, and getting timely hits, and running the bases.”