May 26—VALDOSTA — On the heels of capturing their first state championship, the Lowndes baseball team still has much to celebrate.
Seniors Cooper Melvin, Cooper Scruggs, Luke Register, Caleb Thornton, Qrey Lott and Frank Ruepp signed college letters of intent Monday afternoon.
Of the six seniors, four of which — Melvin, Scruggs, Register and Thornton — signed with Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC) in Tifton.
Lott signed with Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, Florida while Ruepp is headed to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Nassau, New York.
"Obviously we're here to celebrate these young men as they go on and play college baseball at the next level," Head coach Ryan Page said. "ABAC, they owe us some money with as many kids as we've sent over there.
"We're extremely proud of these young men. This is my first senior class. I can't speak enough about each one of them as not only baseball players but as people, as human beings. I love these guys to death. They will forever go down as the state champions of 2023."
"Our seniors, in general, I want to give them credit for this season. We gave them a hard task. If you haven't heard me say this already, this was a very divided baseball team early in the season — extremely divided. I'm not going to lie to you. I'm not going to sugarcoat it. These young men, these seniors, they led these guys to find a way to come together. What you saw is a group of young men, once they came together and figured out how to compete with one another and love one another no matter what the situation was, you saw something really special happen."
WHAT THEY SAID
Center fielder Qrey Lott
Q: What does this day mean to you, signing with Northwest Florida State and doing so as a state champion?
LOTT: "I thank God each and every day for it. I get to continue to play baseball. Thank God. It means a lot. Ever since I was a little kid, this is what I wanted and I got the dream to bring it home and I just thank God for that."
Q: In your conversations with the coaching staff at Northwest Florida State, how do you feel you'll fit into what they do there?
LOTT: "I think I'll be all right. I'll put the work in each and every day in the offseason, in-season — getting faster, stronger and build my mind right to have this opportunity to play center field at the next level."
Q: It's obviously a big day for you, knowing where you're going to school. What does this day mean to you and also what it means to you to be a state champion and to go out the right way?
THORNTON: "What it means to me as far as signing goes, it's been a dream of mine my whole life to play college baseball and I certainly wasn't ready to put baseball down after a state championship, so I want to go play in college. To be a state champion and go out that way, it's been awesome. I couldn't have asked for a better ending."
Q: What was that experience like for you guys going up there and playing in Truist Park and finishing the job?
THORNTON: "Playing at Truist was awesome — a lot of nerves across the board. It meant a lot to us, especially taking down a great team like Parkview was. It was tough, but I'm glad we could pull it out."
Left fielder Cooper Scruggs
Q: Obviously, you're one of many Vikings going to ABAC. What does it mean to you to be going off to play college baseball and doing so as a state champion?
SCRUGGS: "It feels great. Playing college baseball is a dream, first of all, and to actually get to pursue it and try to better my dream, it's pretty amazing. Doing it as a state champion, I've got this ego about me that's just unspeakable. It feels like nothing I'm ever going to forget."
Q: This group has been through a lot. This group of seniors has been through a lot — two years ago, you played Parkview and got eliminated. Last year, you were bounced in the Elite Eight. What was the journey like to get the job done, knowing all the hardships you went through as a team?
SCRUGGS: "Being a team down south, we really don't get recognized. We're just some local team. I saw it in the newspaper — an impressive record but getting put out in the playoffs pretty consistently. It kind of brought our name down and people thought down to us as not a good baseball team, but pushing through all that this year — pushing through the trials, the arguments on the inside. Being able to overcome that and work as a team to be something special, I'm just...speechless. These guys meant a lot to me, more than they know, and being able to bring a championship home to the South where people think we're not as great, it's a great feeling."
Q: You guys started 5-9. You had six straight losses there at one point. What was the turning point for you guys after that stretch of the season?
SCRUGGS: "Region. We realized we were just kind of goofing off in the beginning. We knew we were good, but we didn't play like it but when region came around, we were like, 'Let's get together. We've got to actually start playing as a team because region matters in playoffs and that's our goal. Playoffs pretty much start with region and in order to make our dream come true, we have to start and we're running out of time.' We did it. We started coming together to win it."
Shane Thomas is the sports editor at the Valdosta Daily Times.