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A new challenge for Blitch, Gators

    The Bulloch Academy baseball team is looking to improve on last season’s playoff success, and to do so, it will rely on one of its most familiar faces.
    Walker Blitch has proven himself to be one of the best pitchers in the area and has been in top form as the ace of the Gators’ staff early in the 2011 season.
    The lanky right-hander has accounted for two wins during Bulloch’s 3-1 start, which has quickly earned the admiration of first-year BA coach Dennis Dove.
    “Walker is definitely a guy that we will look to all year,” said Dove. “Anytime we have a big game, I’ll be confident giving Walker the ball and sending him out there.”
    Now entering his final season with the Gators, Blitch is ready to turn in his best performances yet. Thanks to Bulloch’s new region alignment, he’ll have to.
    Like all other Gator teams, the baseball squad is entering its first year of competition in Class AAA of the Georgia Independent School Association. Blitch and his teammates now find themselves in the highest class of GISA play and will have to go through some of the best teams in the state to improve on last season’s second round state playoff showing.
    “I think we’ll be prepared for it,” said Blitch of the tough road ahead. “We’ve got a lot of guys who are returning and who have been in big games against tough teams before. I know I’m excited to face whoever is on the schedule.”
    The Gators have yet to face a AAA team this season, but begin region play Friday.
    “We’re about to get it started,” said Dove. “We’ve played pretty well so far, but now we’ve got to step it up. We begin region this week and have John Milledge — who is in the top-5 in the state — next week. We’ll see where we are pretty soon.”
    While the level of competition may be rising, so is Blitch’s game.
    As he has progressed through his Bulloch Academy career, Blitch has strived to improve himself with each passing year.
    Now, he feels confident in his role as an ace and is confident that he’ll be better than ever.
    “It’s not anything really specific,” said Blitch of his offseason improvements. “It’s just a lot of hard work at everything that goes into playing well.
    “Mostly, I just work to improve on the mentality that I have on the mound. I always want to throw strikes and get ahead of batters. If I can do that, I know that I have a bunch of guys who will help me out whenever the ball is hit.”
    After a solid pitching career — both as a collegiate and professional — as well as two seasons as an assistant coach on the Georgia Southern squad, Dove is also helping Blitch continue to improve on the mound.
    Dove has been impressed with Blitch’s ability, but is now striving to help him with the mental aspects of pitching and working batters.
    “I got the feeling that he wasn’t used to throwing a lot of off-speed in fastball counts,” said Dove. “Sometimes, that’s the best way to attack a guy. Walker is coming along very well though. He’s got a great head for the game and he’s really settling in and looking comfortable.”
    Now that the region schedule has arrived, it’s time for Blitch and the rest of the Gators to hit their stride, and Dove has every bit of confidence in one of his senior leaders.
    “Having guys like Walker really helps me as a first-year coach,” said Dove. “He knows exactly what is expected of him and everyone follows his lead. I don’t know if we’ll use him in the region opener or save him for John Milledge, but I know that we’ll use him whenever and that he’ll be ready.”

    Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.