Tift hands Lowndes first loss 13-12

Valdosta – With the wet weather teams in south Georgia have had lately, getting into region play with any experience might be hard but the Tift County Blue Devils started region Tuesday night with a win over Lowndes. Lowndes, entered at 7-0, as first year Head Coach Rusty Beale took over this season. Beale was a Tift assistant under his dad Chuck. He left as an assistant to Taylor Wilkins in softball two days before the softball season started. The Blue Devils, entered at 5-2.

Tift started strong early, teeing off on Viking starter Cody Harwell. Harwell got the first two outs in order, striking out lead off Jonah Reyes and a Le Bassett ground out to the second baseman. But Harwell hit first baseman Briggs Benson with a pitch. Benson stole second base, and waited for cleanup hitter Zeke Dodson to do his job. Dodson complied,  going over the left field wall on a full-count. The 2-run blast started the fun for Tift. Harwell walked the next batter, designated hitter Sam Miller. Christian Avant hit a hard double to right field, moving Miller to third. Ryan Ross, the senior second baseman for the Devils found another gap in right field for a double and 2 RBIs.  Ross would move to third as center fielder Connor Thomas reached on an error.  Kirk called for a double steal, and got his wish. Ross scored to go up 5-0 before the Vikings got the bleeding to stop.

The Devils sent Le Bassett to the mound. Bassett, a sophomore, got his first varsity start against a major opponent. With a 5-0 lead, he pitched with confidence. But the lead would be short lived, as Tift fielding errors in the first frame gave Lowndes five “freebies” and set up a new game.  Bassett was charged no earned runs in his two innings of work, allowing 3 hits and a walk while he struck out 3. “That was a tough way to start Le, but he learned a lot and he grew up tonight. We track our errors, and thats not our style of baseball. Le pitched through it, and he grew a lot.” Kirk said after the contest.

Both teams would settle in, with Tift finding a hot bat again in the top of the fourth frame.  With one out, Benson fired off another double, this one to left field. Dodson would be intentionally walked. Sam Miller got another RBI at bat with a double. He scored Benson and Dodson moved to third. Zane Marshell, on the mound for Lowndes in relief of Harwell, hit Avant with a wild pitch to load the bases. But the Lowndes reliever got Ryan Ross to ground out to the second baseman for out number two. Ross got the RBI as Dodson scored. Thomas hit an RBI single to center field, scoring Miller.

Chase Cottle found Lowndes wasn’t completely done. The Senior reliever gave up two runs in the bottom half of the fourth. Cottle gave up a one-out single to left, and Harwell, now at first base, hit a triple to deep centerfield, scoring one run. He would score on a ground out. Cottle issued two walks after that, and Kyle Kirk would move to Benson to close out the 4th.

Unusual Tift Errors let Lowndes back in again in the home half of the 6th. The Vikings plated four runs to take their first lead and only lead of the night 12-10. Benson gave up a one-out single, and loss the battle to the next batter, issuing a walk to Ira Weeks. A mishandled infield ball in the clay allowed Johnson to reach, and gave the Vikings new life. Benson hit the next two batters, crowding the plate. The flood gates opened, and Lowndes had to play defense and hold the Devils for the win. Beale’s bunch couldn’t do it, as Tift rallied in the seventh.

Benson got his third hit of the evening with two dead in the top of the 7th, singling to left field. After two intentional walks, Lowndes had to throw to Dodson, but couldn’t get the carefully chosen pitches in the strike zone. He walked. With the tying runners on base, Lowndes’ Andy Perkins issued another free pass to Sam Miller. Avant singled to center, and suddenly we had extra baseball. Benson and Dodson scored, and Perkins walked Ryan Ross before getting Connor Thomas to strikeout to end the inning.

Thomas may have struck out at the plate, but he paid dividends on the mound in the bottom of the 7th, and 8th. Thomas struck out the side in the home half of the 7th. In the top of the 8th, JP McGahee drew another of Perkins’ walks to lead off.  A great bunt by left fielder Jonah Reyes moved McGahee to second. Bassett walked.  After a Benson pop-up, Dodson hit a single to score McGahee for the go ahead run 13-12.

That would be enough. Thomas shut down the Vikings in the 8th, allowed no hits in the two innings of work as he struck out four, and took the win. Tift County improves 6-2, and 1-0 in the region standings. Lowndes falls to 7-1. Tift returns to action on Friday night, inside the friendly confines of the Blue Devil Diamond as they face Valdosta. Valdosta got their first region win last night, taking Colquitt 12-2. Lowndes face Ware County tonight and faces Lee County on Friday night in Leesburg. Game time is 5:55 on Friday night.

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