Cal Gentry’s freshman season with the Georgia College baseball program couldn’t have gone much better.
The former Perry standout was the Bobcats’ starting third baseman and led the team with a .439 batting average, scoring 50 runs and driving in 42. Georgia College won the Peach Belt Conference Tournament title last weekend, earning a trip to the NCAA Division II Tournament.
Georgia College will face USC Aiken at 11 a.m. on Thursday in Mount Olive, North Carolina.
“It’s really awesome. All the hard work that we’re putting in is paying off,” Gentry said. “I’m actually kind of surprised with the year that I’ve had. I just kind of started off hot, and it just kind of took off from there and never really slowed down.”
The Bobcats certainly took off when head coach Jason Eller moved Gentry into the leadoff spot. In the first game with Gentry at the top of the batting order, Georgia College beat Montevallo 20-0 — the first of five straight wins.
“I wasn’t the point man in recruiting him. When I came in, here is a kid we had signed who was a left-handed bat, and I think he’s gotten better from being in this program, our intrasquads, the scrimmages, the practices,” said Eller, who is in his first season with the program. “He really bought into earning a role, and then he ended up winning the job at third base. He started in the nine hole, and he snuck up on everybody in the nine hole, and then we moved him to leadoff.
“As soon as we moved Cal, people in the Macon area who were Georgia College alumni were texting me what a great move that is. I said, ‘We’re just trying to score some runs.’ He’s a special player having a special year, that’s for sure.”
The Bobcats certainly have had a special year. They carry a 35-13 record into the Southeast Regional as the sixth seed. Mount Olive is the No. 1 seed and gets a bye in the first round. Fourth-seeded Catawba faces fifth-seeded UNC Pembroke, while second-seeded North Georgia faces seventh-seeded Lincoln Memorial.
Georgia College went 2-1 against UNC Pembroke during the regular season then beat USC Aiken, North Georgia and UNC Pembroke during the conference tournament.
Brandon Benson leads a lineup that has every starter batting above .300 with a .391 average, 22 home runs and 73 RBI. Brandon Purcell has 10 home runs and 55 RBI, and Logan Mattix has 12 home runs with 59 RBI. On the mound, Charlie Hecht is 6-3 in 14 starts, while Trevor Guthrie is 5-2 in 10 starts, and Brady Walsh is 6-2 in five starts.
“We definitely have a special thing going,” Gentry said. “These guys are awesome. They’ve taken me in, being a freshman, and have treated me like one of their brothers. All the hard work, the sweat, the blood, we had put in all year long, just working every day, had finally paid off (in the conference tournament).
“I think we have a really good chance this week. We have already beaten three of the other six teams, so we have a lot of confidence going into this week.”
The Bobcats certainly have plenty of history in the NCAA Tournament. Georgia College is making its fourth trip to the regionals in five years and its 14th overall.
The program won regional titles in 1995 and 2010 to advance to the College World Series.
“Georgia College is such a great, tradition-rich baseball program, it’s unbelievable,” Eller said. “You can feel it when you walk on the field; you can feel it when you walk in the locker room. We’ve played really well at home, and we’ve played .500 on the road and gave ourselves a chance to make it to the tournament. And then we grew as a team, and we grew as individuals all year long, and when it was really on the line, and we had to perform, we did.
“That’s a credit to our student-athletes and everything that Georgia College stands for.”