Game day for Cavaliers
Published 12:46 pm Wednesday, May 8, 2019
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
They’ve been through this rodeo a time or two.
Take a look at the Callaway High lineup, and it’s filled with players who have ample experience when it comes to playoff baseball, and they have mostly positive memories to lean on.
The Cavaliers made it to the state semifinals last season, and they’re one of eight teams left standing in this year’s Class AA playoffs.
Callaway will host Bacon County in a best-of-three quarterfinal series, with the winner advancing to the semifinals.
Callaway and Bacon County will play a doubleheader on Wednesday at 5 p.m., and a third game will be played on Thursday at 4 p.m. if needed.
The series winner will play either Rockmart or Harlem in the semifinals next week.
While there are a few new faces on Callaway’s team this year, it’s been mostly the same group of players the past two seasons.
In Callaway’s every-day lineup, nearly every player either started or saw significant playing time last season.
The exception to that rule is catcher Zach Neighbors, who has done an excellent job behind the plate.
It’s probably not a coincidence then, that when things
have been tight and the tension level has risen a few hundred degrees, the Cavaliers have made the winning plays.
Callaway is 4-0 in the playoffs with sweeps of Banks County and Model, and three of those games have been close.
“They’re a veteran group,” Callaway head coach Dusty Hubbard said. “That’s one thing. A lot of them have been in the fire. I think that showed up when you’ve been here before. The games weren’t too big for us.”
One of those veterans is senior first baseman Braelin Mitchell, who had the game-winning hit in a 1-0 victory over Model in game one of their playoff series.
“We’ve got a lot of experience in the big games,” Mitchell said. “Our nerves won’t get the best of us. We know how to handle the situation, how to not let the outside get in our heads, and just play our game.”
In the bottom of the sixth inning of the first Model game, senior Trent Sheppard singled and stole second before Mitchell came through with a two-out RBI single to bring in the game’s only run.
“I know I’ve been there before, and I can do it again,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell and his teammates were in this same situation last year, hosting a quarterfinal series.
In a series that went the full three games, Callaway beat Thomasville to reach the semifinals.
Mitchell had two hits and three RBIs in a 9-6 victory that gave Callaway the series win.
“We’re right back in the same spot we were last year,” Mitchell said. “We’re hoping we can do it like we did last year.”
It’s a close-knit group of players, on the field and off.
“We’re brothers,” Mitchell said. “We’re close to each other. We hang out after practice a lot. We’ll do anything for each other.”
Eight players who appeared in that pressure-packed game three against Thomasville will be on the field today.
Senior Drake Wade is a dynamic leadoff hitter for the Cavaliers who almost always seems to make things happen when he gets on base.
Wesley Marchman, who started last season as a sophomore, holds down the number two spot in the order for the Cavaliers.
Senior Trent Sheppard, who has been one of the team’s best hitters the past two seasons, and Mitchell have been forces at the third and fourth positions in the batting order.
Jabari Smith, who had a key RBI single in the series-clinching win over Model last week, hits fifth, and Swann, Destin Patrick, Walt Stewart and Bryce Kurian complete the lineup.
Among those players, only Swann wasn’t a part of last year’s semifinal team.
A key to Callaway’s success has been the performance of pitchers Dawson Wright and Justin Moore, who have both delivered outstanding outings in the playoffs.
In the Model series, Wright and Moore both pitched complete games in the 1-0 and 4-1 victories.
The pitchers have been backed up by a defense that has been nearly flawless.
“We’re not going to strike out 10 hitters a game,” Hubbard said. “They’re going to put the ball in play. We’ve got to be solid defensively. We’ve got to do our best to limit the hard contact. We want soft contact. When they do make contact, we’ve got to make plays. That’s what we’ve done in the playoffs that has really helped us.”
Beyond Wright and Moore, Hubbard has some other talented pitchers he can call upon if needed.
Senior Walt Stewart started game three against Thomasville last year, and Tucker Starling, Jabari Smith have appeared in this year’s playoffs.
“They’ve just got to keep the momentum going,” Hubbard said of the ptichers. “If they keep doing that, I like our chances. As long as we play clean behind them.”
WHAT: Third round of Class AA state playoffs
WHEN: Wednesday, 5 p.m. (doubleheader); Thursday, 4 p.m. (if needed)
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Callaway (22-12) finished second in Region 5-AA and beat Banks County and Model in the state playoffs; Bacon County (26-8) finished second in Region 2-AA and beat Dodge County and Thomasville in the state playoffs.
UP NEXT: The winner will play Rockmart or Harlem in the state semifinals