The Long County Blue Tide baseball team has been a completely different team since head coach James Hobbs took the program over in 2018. With a new season upon them, the team is ready to take on all challenges, even with having to reload after a successful 2022 season.
In 2022, the team finished 21-9 and fell just three runs short of winning the region series over Appling County and Pierce County and hosting a playoff game for the first time in two decades.
The team also graduated eight seniors, seven of whom started nearly every game in 2022. Hobbs said that losing those eight leaders, many of whom started as 10th graders, is a big blow, but the team is ready to step up to the plate.
“It's hard to replace that much experience on the field, as well as their leadership in the program,” Hobbs said. “However, we have a solid group who have put in their time and are ready to step up.”
His two seniors - Ryder Dawson and Giovanni Jackson - both had valuable playing time in 2022, the latter of whom became a prominent piece on the mound and in the outfield late in the season. They have both been a part of the program since their freshman year.
Hobbs did say that the team is still “piece together who can do what and who is going to play at different positions based on pitching rotations” and they hope to have it “sorted out by region play.”
One big name to look out for in 2023 is junior pitcher and outfielder Landon Runyon. He has been a staple on the team since his freshman season and has started to garner some attention from college coaches around the state.
“(Runyon) is one of the hardest workers I've ever coached. He has made a major jump velocity-wise off the mound, gaining around eight miles per hour on his fastball over the off-season, also while working on his arsenal of pitches,” Hobbs said. “I believe he will have a breakout season.”
The biggest challenge the Tide face this year likely is not just the youth on the team, but the new region opponents. Region 3-AAA now features Liberty County, the team’s first round opponent last year, and three private schools from Savannah - Calvary Day, Savannah Christian, and Savannah Country Day - as well as Groves, Beach, and Johnson, public schools from Savannah.
Savannah Christian was ranked in many AAA baseball preseason polls and Calvary was a top 20 team. Savannah Country Day “is always respected in the baseball community and has a strong group returning from last year,” Hobbs said.
“All we did was trade out one tough baseball region for another,” Hobbs said.
Going from five to eight teams in the region also changes the region play schedule. For the last four years, the Tide played each region opponent in a three-game series and now that has been shortened to two games each.
“We are just going to go out there and play our game, try to make as little mistakes as possible and make them pay for their mistakes,” Hobbs said. “If we go out there and make the routine plays, throw strikes, execute our offense, and run the bases hard and smart we can play with anyone.”
Since Hobbs came to Long County in 2018, the team has steadily improved. They have won 78 games - an average of 15.6 wins per season - and made four playoff appearances, not counting the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season in which the team was 14-1 and ranked second in the state.
They advanced to the second round of the playoffs last year and the quarterfinals in 2021. Needless to say, there seems to be a lot expected of the Blue Tide in 2023.
“We have a set standard here in Long County. Our goals are the same every year, whether we have eight seniors or two,” Hobbs said. “We are going to play clean, hard-nosed baseball.”
Overall, the team looks to “finish top four in the region and go to playoffs, put ourselves in a spot to possibly host a playoff game, and then make a state playoff run,” Hobbs added.
The team hosted Ware County, a powerful 5A team, last week in a scrimmage and fell 12-3. The two teams made the agreement to switch pitchers each inning to get as much experience as possible.