Tift closes door, Edges Hoco 7-5

Tifton – After taking a scrimmage victory over Perry, Kyle Kirk and his band of #mojo faithful, the Tift County Blue Devils baseball squad, played host to the Houston County Bears. Houston County entered othe contest as the reigning State Champions in AAAAA, and would prove to be formidable opponent. After a slugfest of hits, Tift got the win with closer Le Bassett.

Walter "Dog" Burgess throws the first pitch as Houston County visited Tift County for a non-region contest. Photo: Shine Rankin Jr./SSGN

Walter “Dog” Burgess throws the first pitch of the first game of the year as Houston County visited Tift County for a non-region contest. Photo: Shine Rankin Jr./SSGN

Connor  Thomas, a senior leftie, got the start for Tift. But before the officials gave the ball to Thomas, fans welcomed a Tift icon, Walter “Dog” Burgess, for the first pitch of the new season at the Devil Diamond. Burgess recently turned 62, and has been a familiar face on sports fields in Tifton for more 45 years.  “Walt-Dog”, as the faithful call him, has helped with Tift County athletics, umpired T-ball for many of the current Tift County players, and works the admissions gates at many of the home events at TCHS. He retired in October with a full pension from the USDA and is doing what he loves,  spending time with Blue Devil fans and players.

The game would start slow, with neither team being able to accomplish much until Houston got a two-out rally going. Lumsden, the left fielder, hit a single to center right field. CF Profit hit another gap single to center, and the pitcher, Phillips hit a hard double, that Tift outfielders struggled to field. Phillips crossed the plate, a second before the throw from  center fielder Jonah Reyes. With HOCO leading 3-0, Tift County needed to respond.  Thomas drew a walk, and courtesy runner JP McGahee scored as Zeke Dodson singled in the bottom of the 3rd.

Conner Thomas unloads from the mound. Thomas went 5 1/3 innings, allowing 4 runs, striking out 6 and walking 2. Photo: Shine Rankin Jr./SGSN

Conneo Thomas unloads from the mound. Thomas went 5 1/3 innings, allowing 4 runs, striking out six and walking two. Photo: Shine Rankin Jr./SGSN

Tift County Blue Devils Ryan Ross (1) scores in the 5th inning.

The Devils would strike again, working to trim the lead more in the 4th frame. Catcher Christian Avant hit the first of his two doubles in the contest in the 4th. He would advance on a pass ball to the 3 bag, and score on a single by first baseman Chase Cottle.

Thomas drew another walk to start a 5th inning rally. With Thomas on and one down, a Reyes single would put runners in scoring position. Reyes would be put out in a fielder’s choice hit by 2B Ryan Ross. Ross would advance on a hard hit ball by Dodson. The HOCO left fielder got the error as he couldn’t bring Dodson’s line drive in. McGahee and Ross scored. The flood gates opened. Designated Hitter Briggs Benson singled to right field, and 3B Le Bassett would reach on an error. Avant stepped to the plate, and ate. Smashing another double, this one down the left field line, Avant garnered two RBIs, and made the difference offensively in the game.

Giving up 4 runs on 7 hits, Thomas struck out 6 and walked 2 in 5 1/3 innings of work. Kirk called on relievers Ben Weaver and Bassett, with Weaver working the remainder of the 6th frame and stranding HOCO baserunners. Weaver started the 7th, but allowed one run. Bassett closed the door,  allowing one hit and striking out two on the way to the save.

“A total team effort” Kirk said after the contest.”Our kids believe,  and they didn’t stop fighting.” Slightly banged up, Kirk hopes to get his walking wounded back shortly. Senior Patrick Watson is sitting with a pulled hamstring, Benson is in the DH role as he rests his tendinitis in his elbow, and Shortstop  Adam Spurlin is healing a fractured elbow.

Despite the injuries, the #mojo is working at the Devil Diamond. Tift is 1-0 on the early season, and will face Ware County on the road on Wednesday, then returning home for contests with Pike County and former region foe Coffee on Friday and Saturday. Friday’s game time is set for 5:55. Saturday’s game is expected to start at 4PM.

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