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Bolstered by local talent, Piedmont College baseball team flirting with top 25 of D-III rankings
Flowery Branch's Davidson, North Hall's Olson, Johnson's White aiding Lions in USA South campaign
Piedmont College's Breck Davidson, a Flowery Branch High graduate, stands ready at first base during a March 12 game against Adrian College at Loudermilk Stadium in Demorest. - photo by Piedmont College athletics department

Piedmont College vs. Ferrum College (doubleheader)

When: 3 p.m. Friday

Where: Loudermilk Field, Demorest

The day after Breck Davidson’s freshman season at Piedmont College ended, coach Jim Peeples pulled his ball club together in the team’s indoor facility and decided to make a lineup change.

Unsatisfied by his team’s 22-22 finish in the 2013 season, Peeples made an investment in youth that has paid off handsomely for his Lions squad.

“We played Emory on a Saturday, and I called them down on a Sunday,” said Peeples. “I told them, this is how it’s going to be. You’ve got to decide, are you on board or aren’t you?”

Since then, three area products have spent the last three years leading the line for Piedmont, including North Hall’s Griffin Olson, Johnson’s Chris White and Flowery Branch’s Davidson.

The Lions were ranked the No. 21 team in Division III by last week’s National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association/ poll. As of Wednesday evening, Piedmont had slipped just out of the top 25 after dropping games to conference rival Huntingdon College and MIT.

Still, the Lions (15-9, 3-6 USA South) have embraced their self-described underdog role. They recently knocked off then fifth-ranked Birmingham-Southern College at Loudermilk Field in a thrilling 7-6 encounter just a day after defeating No. 18 Marietta.

“I’d definitely rather be an underdog than be expected to win,” said Davidson, a senior. “We’ve just got to get in our head that we’re not better than we are, so we can go through the same routine every single day.”

Driven to return to winning ways after 2013, Peeples handed the reins to players like Olson, now a junior infielder. Olson believes Piedmont’s success has been a long time coming, bred from experience and patience from Piedmont’s coaching staff.

Coming out of North Hall, Olson said he primarily played first base, second base and third, but rarely shortstop. Olson was asked to switch to shortstop in order for him to start immediately, and he’s been a fixture ever since.

“I think it’s been a constant buildup from my freshman year,” said Olson. “All the team chemistry we’ve gained, the whole infield’s been together for three years. Ever since I’ve gotten here, I’ve heard the phrase, ‘Trust the process, not the results,’ and that’s what we’ve been doing.”

The numbers speak for themselves: first baseman Davidson leads the team with a .372 batting average, 35 hits and 24 RBIs, while Olson has stolen a team-high nine bases to go along with a strong .959 fielding percentage. Meanwhile, White has maintained a hot .351 batting average and .541 slugging rate in just 15 games.

Piedmont has an important stretch coming against Ferrum College at home this weekend (doubleheader from 3 p.m. Friday, final game at 2 p.m. Saturday), which could help boost Piedmont back up the standings in the USA South. As of Wednesday, Ferrum (16-8) leads the conference with a 7-2 conference record.

“Coach saw that there was a lot of potential in the upcoming freshmen and sophomore and that he could lay the foundation for the rest of the time,” said White, a senior outfielder. “He saw that we were ready to work and try and prove ourselves. How much faith he put in us early on shows how much he believed in us.”

The Lions have scored at least nine runs in at least seven games so far, and boast a starting ace in junior Allen Tokarz (2.43 ERA, 4-0), a Brookwood High graduate.

Olson said that if the Lions regain their early-season form, Piedmont can look forward to a strong postseason. When Piedmont plays to its strengths, the shortstop says it feels that the team “plays without thinking.”

“The sky’s the limit,” said Olson. “It’s definitely a great feeling.”

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