Long County Blue Tide baseball has seen a resurgence during James Hobbs’ tenure in Ludowici and in its 50th season, it looks to reach a few different goals that have been elusive in recent years.
In 2023, the team finished the season with 20 wins for the second year in a row and drew the third seed out of Region 3-AAA. However, the team unluckily drew longtime state power Harlem in the first round of the playoffs.
The Bulldogs lost just one game all season in 2023 and eventually finished 36-1 and won the AAA state championship. Their one loss? An 8-4 loss to region foe Morgan County that knocked them down to the second seed in the state playoffs.
Putting their first round exit, something that hadn’t happened since 2019, behind them, the Blue Tide look to get over their proverbial hump in 2024 with their goals not changing according to Hobbs.
“Goals and expectations have not changed for us,” Hobbs said. “We want to compete for the region title and host the first round of the state playoffs and make a run for it all.”
The Blue Tide have not hosted a playoff game in over 20 years, dating back to their quarterfinals run in 2003. They also haven’t missed the postseason in Hobbs’ six years and they don’t plan to change that in his seventh.
“It starts with a group of guys that are loyal and committed to our program,” Hobbs said about the team continuing their success in 2024. “We are bringing back an experienced, mature team that knows the expectations and trust the system in place. They have worked hard all off-season in both the weight room and skill development.”
Part of the team’s success will be largely on the shoulders of an experienced group of seniors and underclassmen. East Georgia College commit pitcher Landon Runyon is back for his senior season along with three-year starters Shannon Filkins and Elijah Lester and Liberty County transfer Jamison Thomas.
The team will look to rely on underclassmen in juniors Nick Sizemore, Kenny Pickens, and Creighton Rogers. Hobbs said that all of this experience and their work in the weight room has been key to building a team attitude going into the season.
“We have several juniors and seniors who have really come on in leading this team every day in the weight room and practice,” Hobbs said. “It's always fun for us coaches when we see the players leading by example with their efforts and understanding. And at practice they are taking the time to teach and coach up the new and young players before the coaches even get the chance. We always tell our guys that with good teams the coaches lead, with great teams the players lead and our veteran guys have done this.”
The Tide hosted a lot of youth on the team in 2023, putting now-sophomore pitcher Dylan Lester in a lot of big game situations throughout the season. Hobbs said that just having those kids on the field isn’t something that can be learned from a coach.
“Experience is one thing you can't teach as a coach,” Hobbs said. “Being young last year, a lot of these guys were put into some pressured situations and forced to grow up fast. But I know that it was a huge tool in preparing us for this season.”
Region 3-AAA is one of the toughest baseball regions in the state with three private schools adding an extra challenge for the Tide. Hobbs hinted at Savannah Christian, a 2023 AAA semifinal team, and Calvary Day being two matchups they have circled on their calendars.
He said that having depth on the mound will be key to their success in the region in 2024.
“Pitching depth is key when it comes to winning a region series and in the playoffs,” he said. “This year, I feel like we have more depth on the mound than we had in a while. We have six guys right now, Runyon, Sizemore, Pickens, Thomas, Lester, and Filkins, that we feel like we have a good chance when they are pitching. But I tell our guys all the time that we can play with and beat anyone if we can eliminate the mental mistakes and freebies, and take advantage of the opponents' mistakes.”