It’s been a busy week all the way around for the baseball program at Richmond Hill High School.
The Wildcats celebrated senior night Wednesday by knocking off Jenkins, 5-2, at Wildcat Field, a night after they beat Ware County, 4-2, to clinch the Region 3-AAAAA title – which also happens to be the program’s first-ever region title.
The win Wednesday improved RHHS to 12-2 in the region and 13-12 overall in Region 3-AAAAA. Tuesday’s victory secured the Wildcats home-field advantage in the first round of the state playoffs beginning May 3, when Richmond Hill takes on the No. 4 seed from Region 2-AAAAA in a best-of-three series.
And while nobody knew late Thursday night which team from 2-AAAAA will be the No. 4 seed, Wildcats coach Stacy Bennett said it should be a good one.
“We will play one of the Augusta, Warner Robins-area schools who have a very rich tradition in baseball.” Bennett said. “We will worry about ourselves first and foremost in preparing next week.”
Focusing on the immediate future was a theme echoed by senior pitcher Brian Strahan, who tossed four innings and limited the Warriors to a run to earn the win.
“Winning (a state championship) would be great, but we’re not looking ahead to that,” he said. “We have to take it game by game, play our game and see how it far it takes us.”
That’s been a recipe for success for RHHS so far this season. The Wildcats struggled early but found confidence midway through the season and, after a four-game losing skid in March, rebounded to win eight of their last 10 games.
Bennett credited his players and said the squad’s five seniors were key in the Wildcats’ surge to the top of 3-AAAAA.
“We started off slow early on, but our guys came out each day hungry to learn and get better. I am glad to see those guys get rewarded for hard work and perseverance,” Bennett said. “Kyle Jamar and Strahan were our two senior captains voted by the players and they played a huge role in keeping the team morale where it needed to be.”
Jamar picked up the Region-Clinching win on Tuesday night when Richmond Hill knocked off Ware County.
Sophomore Chaise Parker was 2 for 2 with an RBI and run scored, sophomore Justin Henle was 2 for 3 with an RBI and junior Michael Teston was 1 for 3 with an RBI.
Against Jenkins on senior night, senior Randy Giles tossed an inning of scoreless relief and seniors Alex Peraldo and Dallas Daniel both figured in the Wildcats’ win – Peraldo scored the first run and Daniel was 1 for 3.
Also in that contest, Junior Josh Lawhorn was 2 for 3 with an RBI, sophomore Zach Byrd was 2 for 3 and Chaise Parker was 1 for 3 with two RBIs. Junior Peyton Carter had a hit, run and an RBI.
Tough nonregion slate
Bennett, a former college and minor league player, has made no bones about his desire to have his team play the best nonregion schedule he can put together. He has consistently scheduled tough non-region competition during his time at RHHS and the formula appears to work.
The first time RHHS took on perennial Class AAAA power Wayne County (19-5 overall) this season, the Wildcats fell 8-1. Richmond Hill nearly pulled out a comeback win in the rematch before falling, 4-3.
“I’m glad the decision to play that hard of a nonregion schedule paid off. Our guys were constantly put in stressful situations and kept getting better at them all year,” Bennett said. “That says a lot about the players we have. As a coach you never know how a new team will handle those situations. It could have made for a long year, but they learned and got better every day.”
Strahan there were definitely times when the going got stressful — especially during an 11-8 loss to Brunswick on March 1.
“We were ahead, 3-0, and gave up 11 runs in one inning,” he said. “After that game, coach Bennett preached to us to control the damage. The last few games we had some situations where we could easily have opened the floodgates and let the games get way from us, but we held it together and held our composure and finished up with wins.”
Strahan said the Wildcats’ four-game losing streak in March also has a silver lining. During that skid, Richmond Hill dropped its only two region games, a 3-2 loss to Glynn on March 19 and a 2-0 setback at Ware County. Richmond Hill beat Glynn 1-0 the next time they faced the Terrors and evened the series and clinched the 3-AAAAA title in the rematch against Ware County.
“I think it’s better to lose a few games like that during the regular season to be ready and prepared for close games later on. To lose to Glynn and Ware that first time, we definitely weren’t comfortable. Now we know how we have to battle,” Strahan said.
Now, the Wildcats will have to find a way to win two of three against a nonregion opponent. Richmond Hill hasn’t had much success against schools from outside 3-AAAAA so far this season, but Strahan thinks experience will help RHHS now.
“I think we’re definitely more comfortable as a team now,” he said. “We’re a young team with only five seniors and I think the reason why we struggled a lot in nonregion games early was because it was our first time playing together as a team. Now we’re more comfortable playing as a team.”
Strahan, who will sign with Piedmont College in May, has some perspective on where RHHS has been by having played all four years there. He said he sensed this year’s team could be special against Effingham County when the Wildcats came back from an early deficit to beat the Rebels, 4-3, in eight innings. And Strahan said the school’s first-ever region baseball champion is certainly pretty special.
“It’s great. Especially for me as a senior, and especially it being the first in the program’s history,” he said. “It’s just great to be a part of it.”
Like most teams, the Wildcats also have a philosophy of sorts, which Bennett summed up in an email.
“Our goal is to go out and play fast and play hard for seven innings,” Bennett said. “When the last out is recorded we will see if it’s a W or an L.”