It took four hours, but in 1984 Skip Fite reeled in the biggest catch of his life - a 736-pound blue marlin.
While the catch was a state record in Florida for more than 15 years, the Augusta State baseball coach is busy pulling in other catches. Recently, Fite notched his 400th win at Augusta State.
"I've had a lot more fun in the long run getting that 400th win," Fite said. "That marlin was fun for about the first 10-15 minutes. Then I felt like I was reeling a Volkswagen in, pulling it up a hill."
In 17 years with the Jaguars, the 45-year-old Fite has amassed a 402-458 record. Fite earned his milestone win when the Jaguars defeated Francis Marion 5-2 April 20.
"That's a lot of ball games against very good teams," Fite said. "We've had some great young men here. I just feel fortunate to have the association with the quality of individuals that I've had here. That's the important thing about 400 wins - not the wins itself, but the young men that came in and busted their tails and did all the work to get to 400."
To go along with the milestone, Fite has another thing to be happy about. Augusta (28-24, 11-19) is assured of its first winning season since 1986.
"We've challenged our older players and asked if they want to be remembered for mediocrity or the team that turned this thing around," he said. "I think it's a major issue in the program, younger guys learning how to win. Then when we walk out there next season, they should expect to win."
Fite expected his team to win more conference games than it did this season. The Jaguars lost 10 Peach Belt games by two runs or less. But none hurt worse than losing three games to USC Aiken in which Augusta blew a nine-run lead in one game and a five-run lead in the eighth inning of another.
This after the Jaguars had already blown a two-run lead in the eighth inning against Georgia College & State before losing 8-7. Then the team lost a seven-run lead in a 10-9 loss to Columbus State.
"We talk about that quite a bit. If we'd have done this or that, caught this ball or that ball, where would be right now? With our talent level, we don't feel there's much of a difference between us and anybody else in the league right now," Fite said.
The Jaguars were 19-20 after the series with the Pacers. But Augusta caught fire, winning nine of its next 10.
Augusta's pitching staff has been key to the turnaround with a 4.50 team ERA. In 18 starts, Marty Bruce (4-3) has a team-low 2.85 ERA. Ricky Buffkin (5-5, 3.34) and Matt Joaquim (7-2, 3.53) have been stellar starters while local products Billy Thomas (3.93, two saves) and Augi Rodriguez (0.00, four saves) have been pleasant surprises in the bullpen.
Former Harlem star Matt May leads all starters, who had 100 or more at-bats, with a near .390 batting average along with 15 doubles, nine triples, six home runs and 44 RBI. Starters Will Foskey, Chris Cooper, Buffkin, Josh Corr and John Graham all hit above .300.
"The majority of these guys are going to be back. We don't lose a lot of key players. So hopefully, they'll continue to have the mentality that we can do this, prepare well, believe in ourselves and it's going to get done."
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