Originally created 05/06/04

Division II spot goes to Jaguars



Augusta State players stretched, took ground balls and did jumping jacks. As of 3:30 Wednesday afternoon, the Jaguars still didn't know whether they were holding a fruitless practice.

After sitting through a conference coaches meeting and spending two hours on the phone, coach Skip Fite finally delivered the news the team had been waiting to hear.

For the first time in 26 years, Augusta State baseball will participate in the Division II Tournament.

"There's been a lot of anxiety," sophomore pitcher Justin Walker said. "We really wanted to be there. There were a lot of good teams. We knew it'd be a close call."

The No. 16 Jaguars grabbed the fourth and final seed in the South Atlantic Regional.

The first team to three wins advances to the eight-team College World Series set for May 22-29 in Montgomery, Ala.

"We've busted our butts since we got back in August," junior catcher Sam Barth said. "Now we have that chance to go to the College World Series."

Good news came twice for the Jaguars. Barth, sophomore shortstop Bennett Mayfield and junior pitcher David Riveira all were named to the Peach Belt all-conference squad.

Closer Cody Williams, who recorded 12 saves, became Augusta State's second consecutive Peach Belt Freshman of the Year. Mayfield took home the honor last year.

Augusta State (38-16) is making its first postseason appearance since 1978 - the year Fite graduated from Valdosta State.

The Jaguars made it to this year's tournament on the strength of their hitting and pitching.

Walker recorded the league's eighth-best ERA (2.78) and finished with a 7-4 mark. If Riveira hadn't missed a month with a shoulder injury, he (6-0) would have had the conference's top ERA at 2.02.

Starters Greg Thomas (8-3, 3.86) and Brandon Carswell (7-1, 3.98) also put together strong seasons.

Augusta State led the conference in hitting with a .323 average.

Barth ended the regular season leading the Peach Belt in batting, with a career-high .410 average.

Mayfield finished second at .397, while sophomore outfielder Chris Demons came in 10th at .373.

Picked to finish eighth in the preseason conference poll, Augusta State rode a 15-game winning streak early in the season to a high national ranking.

The Jaguars went 15-8 in the final month but were hampered by injuries to key players.

Fite said outfielder Brandon Sumlin (shoulder), Mayfield (hamstring), Demons (back) and Riveira (shoulder) now are healthy. And the Jaguars could be dangerous.

"We're going to be the same team that won 15 in a row," he said. "I think this team has heart. I thought if we could get to a tournament, heart means a lot. I like our chances."

Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or chris.gay@augustachronicle.com.

Augusta State will open up against North Florida at 7 p.m. May 13, in Jacksonville, Fla., in the double-elimination South Atlantic Regional. Columbus State, the No. 3 seed, will face No. 2 seed Pfeiffer in the first game.