Dacula’s Dallas Richard’s (1) fields a ground ball during the sixth inning in Game 1 of Wednesday’s Gwinnett County All-Star Baseball Game at Georgia Gwinnett College. (Photo: Kyle Hess)
LAWRENCEVILLE — Officially, it won’t count, but outgoing Greater Atlanta Christian coach Cliff Shelton won the final games of his career.
The 32-year veteran coach led his group of some of Gwinnett County’s top senior players to victories of 8-4 and 15-10 over a team coached by retiring Dacula coach John Poitevint in the Gwinnett County Senior All-Star doubleheader Wednesday at Georgia Gwinnett College.
“That was kind of fun,” said Shelton. “For me, we don’t get to play a lot of the bigger (classification) schools. You hear about how good some of these players are, and I think it’s pretty awesome to put a face with a name and see how good they really are. There are some pretty good players in Gwinnett County.”
Ultimately, the day was about the players — and in this case, the two head coaches — having one last chance for a little fun on the high school level, to the point where the outcome didn’t even matter.
“You never lose in a game like this,” Poitevint said. “You get a chance to let these kids play and let them put their skills up against the best (seniors) in the county. So, there are no losers.”
Team Poitevint took as much as a 4-1 lead in the opener by taking advantage of two Team Shelton errors, plus RBI singles from Shiloh’s Daniel Chupp in the second and Archer’s Nathaniel Howard in the third.
But Team Shelton erupted to score seven unanswered runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings to claim the lead for good.
Peachtree Ridge’s Steve Tomlinson drove in a run with a double in the fifth and plated two more with another double an inning later, while Mountain View’s Matt Hubbard delivered a sacrifice fly in the fifth.
Bears teammate A.J. Moore made the most of a rare at bat with a two-run triple in the seventh, while another Mountain View standout, Ben Utley, also had an RBI in the inning to cap the outburst, which left Team Shelton with an 8-4 lead.
After gaining the lead in the sixth, Lanier’s duo of Tyler Tillman and Trenton Little and Utley combined to shut down team Poitevint the final three innings on the mount to close out the victory.
The nightcap was a considerably more sloppy affair that featured 25 runs, 29 hits, 10 errors, 14 walks and four hit batsmen.
Team Shelton answered an RBI ground out by Hebron Christian’s Joey Ruiz in the top of the first by cashing in three Team Poitevint errors and an RBI single from Mill Creek’s Austin Parham in the bottom of the inning to take the lead for good at 2-1.
Utley’s RBI double and RBI singles from Mountain View’s Josh Logan and Mill Creek’s Kyle Abernathy pushed the lead to 5-1, while GAC catcher Devin Daugherty added a solo home run later in the game to help Team Shelton cruise.
Though it made for a long night, it was a fun way for the players to end their high school careers.
“It’s special to be out here with the guys one last time,” said North Georgia-bound Tomlinson, who finished the doubleheader with three hits and four RBIs. “Some of us are going to go play college ball. For the rest of us, it’s the last time they’re ever going to play the game. It was special sharing that moment with each other.”
It was also special for both Shelton and Poitevint, who depart from the scene after a combined 58 years of coaching baseball.
They both admit the end still hasn’t fully sunk in, especially for Shelton, who was just two days removed from coaching the Spartans in the Class AA state championship series.
“I’m sure there will be things that will happen, probably in the fall and in the winter time and next spring when you start thinking about baseball, … that will cause me to miss it,” Shelton said. “But it’s all good. I’m so tired from our playoff run and everything else. I’m just looking forward to finally be able to get on the golf course.”