2004 Season in Review
Carrollton, Ga. – May 5, 2004 – The 2004 West Georgia baseball season can be summed up very simply. A great start doesn’t always guarantee postseason glory. The Braves found that out the hard way this season, as UWG started with a 27-6 record only to falter on the final day of the season to miss out on the Gulf South Conference tournament for the third straight season.
The Braves started the season hot, winning their first four games by a total of 29-15. The hitting was going strong, the pitching was complementing the hitting well. Head coach Doc Fowlkes had a dilemma on his hands early, as 2003 conference starter Daniel Roehl and newcomer Matt Beeler were both showing signs that they could be in the conference rotation. Things were going well for the Braves.
The first loss came in the fifth game of the season to visiting Bellarmine. In that game, the Braves showed the weakness that would eventually become their downfall. On that day, the hitting was off, the pitching wasn’t effective and the defensive effort was spotty. The Braves scored seven runs, but only after Bellarmine vaulted out to an 11-0 lead on the back of a third inning grand slam. West Georgia didn’t help itself defensively either, committing four errors on the day.
The month of February was good to the Braves, as West Georgia finished the month with a 12-2 record. The trend continued into March. In the final warmup before conference play started, the Braves traveled to traditional NAIA power Auburn-Montgomery, blasting AUM 8-2 on March 16. Heading into the first conference series at North Alabama, the Braves were sitting on a solid 22-3 record and were ranked 16th in the nation.
West Georgia was up against more than just the Lions in that series, as the Braves had not won a game at UNA in nearly eight years. But this year’s Braves were up to the task, taking out the always dangerous Lions on the back of a former Lion, Jonas Bailey. The first baseman had been sitting out for the remainder of the season until that point, but when he came back from his knee injury, he came back in dramatic fashion. A native of Florence and three-year member of the Lions, Bailey hit a game-winning solo homer in the top of the 12th inning to give his team the win. For Bailey, who transferred to UWG in the summer of 2003, the 12th inning game-winner was his second homer of a memorable homecoming day. For much of the afternoon, it appeared the Braves’ University Field hex would disappear without drama. West Georgia scored three in the top of the first, then added four more in the fourth to lead, 7-0. UWG carried a lead of 8-6 in the bottom of the eighth. However, UNA pushed across single runs in both the eighth and ninth innings to force free baseball. The Braves pounded the North Alabama pitching for 18 hits on the day, with Harris Lee, Ben Phillips, and Brandon Lewis all blasting home runs.
The Lions got their revenge in game two, blanking the Braves 6-0, but Bailey returned on Sunday to finish off the Lions, scoring the winning run and throwing out the potential tying run at the plate in the final inning.
Over the next two weeks, the Braves continued their winning ways, beating conference foe Lincoln Memorial in 2-of-3 at home and beating national Division II power Georgia College and State University on the road. But the loss to lowly LMU would prove to be fatal later in the season.
After a massive February and equally strong March, the Braves were confident heading to Pensacola for April’s first opponent, West Florida. In a hard-fought series, the season turned with a 4-3, 5-2 and 10-6 sweep at the hands of the Argonauts. The Braves proved to be vulnerable not at the hands of the top starter from opposing squads, but the third and fourth starters.
After a quick stop in Rome to take out their frustrations on Berry 16-5, the Braves returned home for a three-game series with in-state rival Valdosta State. The Blazers came out and dealt a devastating blow in the first game, powering past the Braves 14-5. Staff aces Jason Ledbetter and Josh Edwards stopped the bleeding in game two, leading the Braves to an 8-4 victory and giving West Georgia a chance for Sunday redemption. The Sunday game was a classic, with tons of pitching, defense and a pair of ejections. The Blazers prevailed, however, 3-2 to win the series.
The next series took the Braves back to Alabama to face Montevallo. After a pair of wins on Saturday got the Braves back on track, the Falcons continued the Sunday hex, besting West Georgia 6-3 in the final game of the series. Looking back at the season, two of the most important losses came on that Sunday and the Sunday game against Lincoln Memorial. Both teams finished in the basement of the GSC East and were games that were winnable.
But despite that, despite the loss in two games at Alabama-Huntsville the next weekend, the Braves still found themselves in position to make the conference tournament. The top four teams each division make the conference tournament, and the Braves found themselves in fifth place behind their final weekend opponent, West Alabama. The solution was simple, sweep UWA on senior weekend, and the trip to Millington for the conference tournament is in the bag.
The series was one for the ages, one to be remembered for a long time. The Braves had fire inside of the, just like the Tigers. Game one was a seesaw battle, with the Tigers drawing first blood in the third and the Braves coming right back in the bottom of the inning for a 2-1 lead. UWA jumped right back, putting a three-spot on the board in the fourth before the Braves tied the game at four in the fifth inning. Back-and-forth the teams battled, until the Braves broke through or two runs in the 11th for a 9-8 victory.
Things looked bleak in game two, as the Tigers opened up a 6-1 lead. But West Georgia was not to be denied, scoring six unanswered runs in the final four innings for a 7-6 victory. The season would come down to the fly in the ointment of the West Georgia season, Sunday. With the score tied at four in the seventh, UWA head coach Gary Rundles was tossed for arguing a call. The ejection invigorated the Tigers, as UWA used a five-run eighth inning to seal the Braves’ fate.