MOULTRIE — The Colquitt County baseball team has won just nine games this season.
But seven came in Region 1-7A contests and enabled the Packers to take a second-place finish and earn a first-round state tournament series at Ike Aultman Field at Jerry Croft Stadium against Lassiter that begins today with a 4:30 p.m. doubleheader.
Packers coach Tony Kirkland hopes his team penchant for winning big games continues against the Trojans today.
“We’ve played well when we’ve had to,” Kirkland said. “I’m proud of them for getting us where we are.
“We’ve played a lot of young kids and they are getting a chance to make a difference.”
Although Lassiter is the No. 3 seed from Region 4, the 9-17 Packers still might be considered the underdog in the series.
“You’re dealing with Cobb County baseball, where there are large numbers of kids who play baseball year-round,” Kirkland said, adding that “five or six” Lassiter players have already committed to playing at the next level.”
The Trojans pitching staff will be especially challenging.
“They have some high-velocity guys,” Kirkland said. “We are going to see velocity we haven’t seen much of this year.
“And it’s impossible to simulate that in a practice setting.”
The Packers ace, senior Trace Eakins, does not not throw as hard as some of the pitchers Colquitt will face in the series, but he has come up large in crucial games.
Coming back from off-season surgery, Eakins is 5-2 overall with a 1.65 ERA with all five of his wins coming against region opponents. He has defeated Camden County and Tift County twice each and Lowndes once.
“He throws strikes,” Kirkland said. “But he doesn’t strike out a lot of batters. He pitches to contact and we’ve been making plays behind him.”
Sophomore Jeb Johnson, who is 2-1 with a 2.75 ERA in eight appearances, will start Game 2 today.
Kirkland said he was unsure who would start if the two teams split today and face a deciding game at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday.
The Packers have been led at the plate by junior J.T. Whatley, who leads the team in batting average .397; hits, 26; runs batted in, 19; doubles, nine; and home runs, two.
“He’s had to do a lot of growing up on the job,” Kirkland said. “But he’s a perfectionist.
“He knows where to put the bat. And he’s got some power. He’s dominating the points chart right now.”
Henry Daniels, another junior, has provided a recent spark after taking over at first base, Kirkland said.
“He’s made a big difference for us,” Kirkland said. “He has been extremely solid.”
The Packers lost a number of outstanding players from last year’s senior-dominated team that went 22-12 and reached the “Sweet 16.”
“We knew we were going to have to surprise some people this year,” Kirkland said. “We are still learning how to go about our business. We’re still growing up.”
That maturation process will continue today.
Kirkland doesn’t think the Trojans’ travel to south Georgia will have much of an effect on them, but hopes his team’s playing at Packer Park will prove to be an advantage.
“What we have to do is throw strikes, catch and throw at a high level and put the ball in play and score some runs,” Kirkland said.
“We are going to have to adjust to handling upper level pitching and play like this means something. It’s win or go home now.’
And, he added, if his team plays as it did in the seven region games and not as it did in many of its losses, “we’ll be OK.”
Kirkland will be going after career win No. 301 in today’s 4:30 p.m. first-round opener.
No. 300 came in the 10-0 victory over Tift County in the first game of last Friday’s region doubleheader split. Kirkland characteristically downplayed the milestone.
“It’s really just a testament to the players and coaches I’ve had,” he said.