For the first time in 25 years, the Tift County Blue Devils are defending region baseball champions.
But 2016 has not started as they planned.
Tift County is 4-5 through the team's first nine games, but head coach Kyle Kirk doesn't seem overly worried. He notes the team's tough early schedule, which included four top programs from the state of Florida.
But Kirk knows the Blue Devils must respond soon, especially since region play begins Tuesday. He says the team usually responds well when region play approaches.
"I've seen it the last few years. The kids really want to go out and do their best because these are guys they played against their whole lives," he says. "It's just the old fashioned rivalries there. The intensity gets up, the buzz around the ballpark. So the guys really come out ready to work and get after it."
The Devils lost several players to graduation a season ago. Kirk says the leadership void that group left must be replaced if Tift County wants to defend their region crown.
"We need the leadership to keep us all together. We've kind of been slumping lately, but we know the process," Kirk says. "That's what we talked about this offseason: trusting the process. If we do what we're supposed to everyday in practice, the outcome will take care of itself."
Tift County hosts Lowndes Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. to open Region 1-AAAAAA play.
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