To say the Stephens County Indians got off to a solid start in 2018 is a drastic understatement. Junior pitchers Dawson Sorrells and Davis Swenson are key cogs in the machine for coach Greg McCall, as the group from Toccoa has only recently seen signs of struggle.
The Indians (18-5; 4-4 Region 8-AAAA) from day one of the 2018 season showed what they’re capable of. The boys were 8-0 to start the season, earning a top-ten ranking in Class 4A. That eight-game winning streak saw the Indians score at least seven runs per game, and outscore opponents 73-20.
That run was interrupted by a 10-0 blowout loss to Franklin County, but that derailment was short-lived. The Indians rebounded with a nine-game winning streak, scoring 78 runs while allowing just 23. This included blowout wins over Cedar Shoals of 16-0 and 14-2.
The highlight of this epic streak, however, was the three-game series with Oconee County. The Indians won the opener easily, 10-4. The next two were dramatic comeback, walk-off wins of 4-3 and 5-4. The 17-1 record gave the Indians a top-five state ranking. More impressive was the will to win and the response of the team when facing defeat.
“The pitching and hitting has come hand in hand,” says Sorrells. “If you have a dominant pitching staff, the hitting will come along. We just gotta keep hitting and putting runs on the board.”
The Indians got a dose of their own medicine when playing region foes Jefferson. The pivotal three-game series ended in a Dragons sweep with wins of 2-1, 1-0 and 2-1 again. Talk about some incredible pitching. While Stephens County has put up some great offensive numbers, the pitching is what it hangs its hat on. Sorrells (5-1; 1.36 ERA, 41 K) and Swenson (5-2; 2.42 ERA, 58 K) are exhibit A and B.
However, the Dragons showed why their staff is just as good, if not one of the tops in the state. The Indians have allowed 74 runs overall (3.2/game), which is great. Jefferson (14-6; 7-1) meanwhile, has only surrendered 48 (2.4/game).
The three-game sweep did more than just dissipate a chance at a region title, but it put the Indians in a tough hole they must now climb out of. The good news is that Stephens County holds its destiny in its own hands, despite also losing 8-0 to Madison County after the Jefferson series. The four-game losing streak was unprecedented for this group, who even last year never lost four in a row.
“Jefferson was a really good series,” says Swenson. “A couple plays here and there, we go from them sweeping us to us sweeping them. Sometimes you just get the short end of the stick. You learn from losing. We take from that, and learn from what we did wrong.”
There are seven games left on the slate. A rubber match with Madison County is on tap tonight (Friday, April 6). While not a must-win for Stephens County, a win gives it the leg up on Madison. Right now, Jefferson at 7-1 in region play is atop the standings. St. Pius, who lies ahead for the Indians, is at 5-3, while numbers three through five in the standings are North Oconee, Stephens County and Madison County all with identical 4-4 records.
As most already know, only four make the state playoffs. So a win in the rubber match is obviously huge. Following the finale against Madison, a three-game series with North Oconee is next, two of which are on the road. Then comes St. Pius, the private 4A school who in almost every sport, every year, seem to be the hardest to beat.
The pitching, behind Sorrells and Swenson, should hold up, along with Bryson Fowler and Chaz Bridges. The offense is led by Austin Page (.383 avg, HR, 14 RBI, 20 R), Zach Boyd (.377 avg, 19 RBI, 13 BB), Bridges (.357 avg, 15 RBI, 12 R), Sorrells (.348 avg, 16 RBI, 15 R), Cole Beitzel (.333 avg, 14 RBI, 22 R), Cayden Maxwell (.308 avg, 4 RBI, 21 R), Fowler (.302 avg, HR, 12 RBI, 14 BB) and Dawson Dean (.258 avg, HR, 17 RBI).
So seven games left, and a LOT of work to do for the Indians. What’s the plan for McCall and the boys?
“We had high standards set,” says Swenson about coming into this season. “We just want to finish strong.”