By Christian Malone
Valdosta Daily Times
— VALDOSTA — Tanner Fudge’s left arm was a valuable asset for Lowndes’ baseball team last year. Valdosta State hopes that same arm will be a valuable asset for them the next four years.
Fudge, Lowndes High’s All-Region pitcher, has signed a scholarship to play baseball for Valdosta State next year.
“I’m very excited about going to VSU. I’m ready to play,” Fudge said. “I’ve been to a lot of their games, so it will be fun to pitch for them.”
Fudge was the first signing for new Valdosta State baseball coach Greg Guilliams, who was hired May 25. Guilliams has long placed a heavy emphasis on pitching, and hopes that Fudge will be a key part of his pitching staff over the next few years.
“I’m very proud of that,” Fudge said about being Guilliams’ first signing.
“We’re excited for Tanner,” Lowndes head coach Danny Redshaw said. “We’re excited he’s going to VSU and going to play for Coach Guilliams, who’s an outstanding baseball coach. Tanner’s going to fit right in.”
Last season, Fudge was 7-5 with a 2.64 ERA for Lowndes, striking out 77 batters in 77 innings. He also saved three games. He pitched in 17 of Lowndes’ 32 games.
“I had a pretty good year,” Fudge said. “We had a good year, making it to the third round.”
While Fudge’s 7-5 record may not appear that impressive, his coach is quick to point out that those losses came to some pretty good ballclubs.
“Tanner’s record doesn’t tell the whole story about how well he pitched last year,” Redshaw said. “He was 7-5, but he didn’t lose to any bad teams, and he beat some good ones.”
Redshaw will be the first to admit that without Fudge last year, Lowndes might have been in a lot of trouble on the mound. With him, they were Region 1-AAAAA champions for the second year in a row, and made it to the state quarterfinals.
“He was our go-to guy,” Redshaw said. “We’d probably have been in bad shape without Tanner Fudge. He pitched a lot of big ballgames, and won a lot of big ballgames.”
Three times during the region season, Fudge was Lowndes’ starting pitcher one game, then closed out a win in another game that week. Lowndes played 12 region games; Fudge pitched in 10 of them. That included a save against Tift County, where he struck out all four batters he faced to preserve an 8-7 win.
“As thin as we were on the mound, that was big for him to be able to do that for us,” Redshaw said. “He gave us a lot of innings. He had a great year.”
Lowndes made it to the semifinals in Fudge’s junior year and the quarterfinals his senior year, and won the region both years.
“I’m very glad I got to play for Lowndes,” Fudge said. “I loved it. It was a good experience.”
After the Vikings graduated their top four pitchers in 2006, Redshaw told Fudge that he needed to step up and become the staff ace this year. He did. He developed a change-up to compliment his fastball and curveball, improved his command, and became a more complete pitcher.
“Once he figured out he could be successful, and got stronger and added a little velocity, he was quite effective,” Redshaw said.
Fudge does some things right-handed, but since the first time he picked up a baseball, he’s thrown it left-handed. That has turned out to be a blessing for him — and for Valdosta State, which had only one left-handed pitcher last year (freshman Jeremy Jones, who went 2-1 in 16 games).
“That’s a God-given blessing,” Fudge said.
Fudge won’t be the only Viking on VSU’s roster. Will Thompson, a 2003 Lowndes graduate, is one of the Blazers’ top returning pitchers, and Jacob Jarvis, a 2004 graduate, is a catcher. Colby Yates, an All-Region first baseman for the Vikings last year, will also play for VSU next spring.
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