MOULTRIE -- When Colquitt County sends Aaron Eubanks out to the mound to face Lowndes at 6 tonight in a key Region 1-AAAAA meeting at Ike Aultman Field, Packers coach Jerry Croft can reasonably expect his senior left-hander to produce a long, strong outing.
Eubanks is ace of the staff for the Packers, who are 14-3 overall and ranked No. 3 in the state and are tied for first place in the region with a 3-1 record. He has pitched 31 1/3 innings in his five starts and has a 4-1 record.
But if Eubanks should falter, the Packers can dip into what has become a surprisingly deep and effective staff.
Junior Thomas Tripp has become the team's closer and has a 2-0 record and a 0.88 ERA to go with his two saves. Sophomore Sherard Reynolds has a 1.68 ERA for his 8 1/3 innings of work over three games.
Isaac Jackson also will be ready to go tonight with his 4.42 ERA, although Will Southwell, who has allowed just one earned run in 14 1/3 innings this season, will likely stay at shortstop after his seven-inning, four-hit shutout of Effingham County on Saturday.
Eubanks and Cody Green, the senior left-handers, have started the four region games so far and have done their job.
Colquitt will take a team ERA of 2.02 and five shutouts into tonight's game. The staff has struck out 137 batters while walking just 48. The Packers have allowed just four home runs this season while hitting 18 themselves.
Eubanks has an ERA of 2.46 and was the loser pitcher in the Packers only region loss. When Valdosta beat the Packers 4-2 at Ike Aultman Field last Tuesday, Eubanks gave up just one earned run as his teammates committed three errors in a three-run Wildcats sixth-inning.
Eubanks has 53 strikeouts this season and fanned the last four Valdosta batters last week.
Green also is 4-1 and his ERA is 2.20. He is likely to get the start when the Packers travel to Douglas on Friday to meet Coffee to start the second round of region games.
"You figure the two seniors are going to do their job," said assistant coach Keith Croft, who has been working with the Packers pitchers since 1990. "They've earned their stripes."
Eubanks has four pitches he can throw for strikes and is clearly one of the top pitchers in the region this season.
"And when Cody's on, he as tough as anyone in the region," Keith Croft said.
Now the other members of the staff are earning their stripes as well.
"Tripp's been the sleeper," Croft said the right-right-hander, who transfered to Colquitt County last year and played with the team last summer. "He's had to learn us.
"He's got good off-speed stuff. And he can come in and close game and can be our No. 3 starter, if we need one. He's been a real pleasant surprise."
Southwell also has exceeded expectations.
His shutout of Effingham raised his record to 3-0 and lowered his ERA to 0.49.
And Southwell and Tripp displayed their moxie last week in Tallahassee against Lincoln High, the No. 3-ranked team in Class AAAAA in Florida.
The two juniors combined to retire the last 10 Trojans in order.
Jackson has baffled hitters with a big, breaking curveball this season.
Reynolds, who is just a sophomore, is still learning the craft.
"Sherard has a lot of potential," Keith Croft said. "He just hasn't blossomed yet."
Jerry Croft gives much of the credit for the staff's development this season to his longtime pitching coach.
"Keith does a good job with them,"Jerry Croft said. "He's a lot like Leo (Mazzone, the Atlanta Braves pitching coach). He's not boisterous.
"He just coaches them and teaches them the right things to do."
Lowndes will bring a 7-9 overall record and a 2-2 region mark into tonight's game.
The Vikings started the region part of their schedule with a 13-3 loss to Valdosta, but bounced back to beat Tift County 2-1 and Lee County 5-3 before losing 5-1 to Coffee on Friday in Douglas.
Clay Hamm was the starting pitcher for the Vikings in last Tuesday's victory over Lee County, although Will Thompson got the win in relief.
Lowndes has had some trouble offensively, scoring just 11 runs in four region games.
The Vikings had five hits against Lee County and just three against Coffee last Friday.