MOULTRIE -- Colquitt County baseball coach Jerry Croft spent Monday collecting and putting away equipment, an annual rite.

But this year, the longtime Packers coach probably reflected more than usual on what might have been.

The Packers season was ended on Saturday when Glynn Academy completed a two-game sweep with a 10-4, nine-inning victory at Edo Miller Park in Brunswick.

The Packers had leads in both of the first-round state playoff games, but could not hold them.

The 4-3 and 10-6 losses were indicative of the kind of season the Packers had.

"Except for the two games against Lee County (8-1 and 11-1 losses) and the loss to Thomas County Central (15-5), we were in every game," Croft said. "But it seemed like something bad always happened. It was like somebody put a curse on us."

Colquitt finished 15-12, but opened the season with eight straight wins and was 10-1 at one point.

It was when the Packers got into the Region 1-AAAAA part of its schedule that bizarre things began happening.

Colquitt lost 4-0 and 2-1 to Houston County, a top-10 team, and did not give up an earned run. In the first meeting, the Bears had just three hits.

Against region champion Lowndes, the Packers lost 5-3 in 10 innings at home and 8-7 in Valdosta when the Vikings scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh.

In a loss to Coffee, the Packers gave up eight unearned runs in one inning. In Tifton, the Packers took a 4-1 lead after two innings on a grand slam by Brandon Smith, only to watch helplessly as rain and lightning force the game to be started from scratch the next day. And the Packers lost 6-3.

Colquitt gave up just one home run through its first 25 games, then surrendered three-runs shots in both games against Glynn Academy. Sam Heath tied the second game with a home run in the bottom of the seventh, only to have the Packers give up six runs in the top of the ninth.

But the season had its highlights, including Sherard Reynolds' 27-game hitting streak. Colquitt also won three straight eight-inning games early in the season and sophomore Andrew Wallace came through with two game-winning hits. J.Cody Neal had an exceptional final season, helping Reynolds, Mike Mobley, Cecil Lawrence, Chad Smith, Brandon Smith and Blake Williams provide senior leadership.

Croft and his players will meet at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Willie J. Williams Middle School cafeteria for an end-of-season supper. And Croft and his staff of Keith Croft, Marlon Daniels and Will Stuckey will begin preparation for 2006.

Jerry Croft has given every indication of returning for his 30th season as head of the Packers program. And with the new baseball field at Packer Park not expected to be ready for the 2006 season, Croft is likely to be around for a 31st season in 2007 as well.

And he may have a pair of outstanding teams those two seasons.

Next year's biggest project will be trying to replace the three senior starting pitchers: Reynolds, who was 5-4 this season; Mobley, who was 4-3; and Williams, who was 3-3. Brandon Smith had another of the Packers 15 wins.

"Pitching is the big question," Croft said. "We've got to replace those three seniors."

But the Packers staff has been pleased all season with potential of Wallace and fellow sophomore Matt Weaver. Rising senior Austin Odum, who appeared in just four games this season, could be a sleeper next year. Jerry Croft said some work on mechanics could turn Odum into a top contributor on the mound next spring.

Chad Smith developed into an dependable catcher over the last two seasons and caught nearly every inning this year. Drew Shealy will have the inside track next spring.

Replacing the run production of Reynolds, Mobley, Neal and Chad Smith also will be project.

But the Packers will have a number of solid contributors from this year's team coming back next spring, including Wallace, Heath, Carter Jones, Marshall Faircloth and Scotty DeMott.

Jerry Croft said he is eager to see Chance Pitts get his opportunity to play regularly, likely at first base, next year. He also likes the offensive potential of Weaver, who did not strike out in any varsity or junior varsity game this season.

The Packers brought up Tyler Perryman, Javaris Jackson and Clay Hartley from the junior varsity to travel with the team during the playoffs and all have the potential to earn a position next year. And ninth-grade middle infielders Cody McLean and Blake Cato could make a run at significant playing time in 2006.

"You go through this every year," Croft said. "You've always got holes to fill. We've got to have some guys step up.

"But I like the nucleus we've got coming back.

The returning veterans and young players will begin next week vying for starting positions.

Croft said he is scaling back the number of games his team will play this summer and has scheduled only two tournaments: The Parkview Shootout and the tournament sponsored by Lowndes.

The two tournaments will offer the Packers chance to play 10 games against quality competition.

"We'll have more practicing and less travel this summer," Jerry Croft said. "I feel like we can get more done practicing three times a week than spending a lot of time on the bus."

Pitchers and catchers will practice three days next week and an intrasquad game is on tap for Thursday. The schedule is likely to be repeated each week until the Packers head to Gwinnett County for the Parkview tournament, which will run June 16-18. The Lowndes tournament is scheduled for June 23-25.

PACKERS NOTES: Houston County was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in three games by Camden County, the No. 3 team from Region 3-AAAAA. Camden won the opener 2-0, but the Bears came back to force a third game with and 8-3 win. Camden advanced with a 12-2 win in the third game.

Coffee, Region 1-AAAAA's No. 4 team, knocked Region 3-AAAAA champion Brunswick out in the first round.

In the first-day doubleheader at Edo Miller Park in Brunswick, the teams split 10-2 victories. The Trojans won the third game 6-5 and will advance to meet Union Grove, which eliminated Newton 10-5 and 12-5.

Region 1-AAAAA champion Lowndes advanced easily, shutting out Jenkins twice, 5-0 and 15-0. The Vikings will play host to Newnan this week. The Cougars defeated Lithonia 5-4 in their first game, then lost 8-3 before taking the final game 19-6.

Former Packers assistant coach Tony Kirkland will have his South Effingham team at home for the second round after eliminated Cairo with a pair of 11-1 victories. The Mustangs will meet Troup County this week. Troup advanced with 16-4 and 10-3 wins over Mary Persons.

 

 

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