With the region schedule heating up and the number of remaining games winding down, teams everywhere are hoping to play their cards right. For Statesboro, there is always the option of throwing out its ace in the hole.
Senior left-hander John Eddie Hodges has been a model of consistency for the Blue Devils this season. After the departure of Crawford Simmons and other power arms in 2009, Hodges as taken the reigns at the top of the rotation.
Hodges has racked up 31 1/3 innings on the season and leads the Devils’ staff with 25 strikeouts. Hits don’t come very often off the crafty lefty, as opponents have managed a batting average of just .238 against Hodges.
“John Eddie has really been the guy whenever we’ve needed him to be,” said Statesboro coach Chris Bishop. “He has done everything that we’ve asked of him out on the mound. He has developed a lot from last season and we know that we’ve got a good chance to win every time we hand him the ball.”
After feeling out all of this year’s pitchers in the non-region games early in the season, Hodges proved himself to be the Devils’ go-to guy in the first region game of the year.
Facing the talented Glynn Academy and with Bo Way - one of the top pitchers in the region - opposing him on the mound, Hodges set to work. Using pinpoint location and an array of different pitches, Hodges limited the Red Terrors to just five hits and left the game after 5 2/3 innings with the Devils leading 5-3 in a game that Statesboro would win by a final count of 7-6.
“John Eddie is very smart out there,” said Bishop. “He can’t just blow it by everyone, but he pitches to contact and gets some strikeouts by getting ahead in counts and getting hitters to chase pitches that are out of the zone. We know that we can count on him to go out there and battle against anybody.”
“I just focus on each pitch as it comes up,” said Hodges. “I pitch to the corners and try to keep it off the middle of the plate. A big reason for my success has been our defense. They’ve played great behind me and all of the other pitchers. That’s a big reason that we’re in good position in the region.”
In addition to being the team’s leader on the mound, Hodges is looked up to for his overall experience.
Seven underclassmen routinely get starting opportunities somewhere on the field in or the batting order, and the Devils’ youth has forced them to learn on the go.
“It’s been amazing to see how everyone has matured since the beginning of the season,” said Hodges. “Everyone has learned their roles and has taken to them. Now it’s just a matter of continually raising our play to that next level.”
In what is sure to be a moment that will be looked back on, the young Devils knocked off Wayne County – the Region 2-AAAA leader and top-ranked team in the quad-A classification, and it was a pair of underclassmen that had the big blows.
Junior Trey Robinson quieted the powerful Yellow Jacket bats – limiting Wayne to its lowest run total of the season – and sophomore Chris Young belted a three-run home run to put Statesboro ahead for good.
“That win was huge,” said Hodges. “Ever since day one, we had that one marked down on the schedule. They took the region from us last year, so it’s a big confidence and morale boost to go to their place and get a win.”
With the victory, the Devils improved to 4-2 – good for a three-way tie for first place with Wayne and Effingham County – in region play.
Now, just five games remain on the region schedule and every one will be important in determining the four teams that will advance to the GHSA state playoffs.
Hodges’ left arm is sure to be leaned on whenever the Devils need a win, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Right now, I have a lot of confidence in myself,” said Hodges. “I think this team can compete for the top spot in the region. It might come down to Senior Night when we host Wayne County, and I’ll be ready to take the ball for that game and any other time the team needs me.”
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.