Columbus baseball coach Bobby Howard notches 900th career victory with Blue Devils' 4-3 win over Troup County

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerMarch 29, 2013 

LAGRANGE, Ga. -- There was no celebratory Gatorade shower.

No high fives.

Only a small congratulatory hug from assistant coach Jeff Boatner.

Very few knew the significance of Columbus High's 4-3 come-from-behind win over Troup at Tiger Field Friday night.

Columbus coach Bobby Howard notched his 900th career victory, the only coach in Georgia history to accomplish the mark.

"I didn't know it until I saw it in the paper," Howard said. "Then (former Hardaway coach) Tracy Powell texted me this morning. My assistants are the guys who keep up with all of that stuff."

Friday's victory gave the longtime coach an overall record of 900-251. Most of his victories came while coaching the Blue Devils. His totals also include stops at Jordan and Kendrick. He has coached at Columbus High since 1975 with the exception of a one-year hiatus in 1997 when he coached Middle Georgia College. He returned to the school the following season.

"I haven't thrown the first pitch and I've never swung a bat," said Howard, deferring all accolades to his players and assistants. "I've been blessed with a lot of good parents, a lot of good kids and lot of good assistants. I'm proud of these kids. They showed a lot of resiliency today."

Howard's resume is impressive. Not only has he reached 900 wins, he also has guided the Columbus program to 11 30-win seasons and a state-record 12 championships.

According to the 2012 edition of the National High School Sports Record Book, Howard is one of only 33 coaches nationally to win at least 800 games.

In Georgia, Howard's mark is sure to stand for several years. His closest competition -- Westside-Augusta's Gerald Barnes and White County's John Brown -- entered the 2013 season with 760 and 753 wins respectively. Both are nearing retirement.

If Howard did take credit for personal accomplishments, he might owe third-baseman Tony Dalponte, whose diving Major League-style stab with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning prevented the tying run from scoring from third.

Dalponte dove to his left to spear a grounder from Troup's Brandon Butts, then tossed to first-baseman Will Bice to preserve the win.

It was also Dalponte's triple to center in the top of the seventh that scored Al Jones, Jr. and AD Young to give the Blue Devils their first lead. Dalponte smashed a fast-ball from Troup's Garrett McClurg into centerfield. Miles Cameron snagged the ball only to drop it when he hit the ground, allowing just enough time for the speedsters to score.

"I was looking for a fastball," Dalponte said. "When I hit it, I thought he was going to catch it, but I had some pretty good backspin on the ball."

Howard may also want to thank pitcher Hunter Swilling, who hurled a complete-game gem and allowed just seven hits. Despite falling behind 2-0 in the first inning on Jonathon Foster's two-run homer, Swilling never lost his composure.

The hard-throwing right-hander wasn't overpowering but relied heavily on his defense to produce groundouts.

"I couldn't have done it without them and clutch-hitting," Swilling said.

The Blue Devils also got a two-run towering homer from leftfielder Robin Geven to tie the game at 2 in the third inning.

Despite the late-game heroics from Dalponte, the day clearly belonged to Howard.

"I'm happy for him," Swilling said. "He has meant so much and he does the things he has to do to help make us better players."

The victory improves the Blue Devils' record to 9-4. With Howard averaging nearly 30 wins per season, he laughed when asked if he'd like to pursue 1,000 wins.

"I don't know," he said. "It's a year-to-year thing. I still enjoy teaching but who knows?"

For now, Howard is content on keeping his 900th victory as low-key as possible. In fact, he's fine with a small congratulatory hug.Friday at Troup

Columbus 002 000 2 --4 8 3

Troup 200 100 0 --3 8 3

WP--Hunter Swilling (NA). LP--J. Adams (NA). Hitting leaders--Columbus Anthony Young 1-4, R; Tony Dalponte 2-3, 3B, 2RBI, R; Robin Geven 1-4, HR, 2RBI; Nick Poskey 2-3; AJ Jones 1-3, R. Records--Columbus 9-4, 3-1 Region 5-AAAA. Next--Columbus, Tuesday, home vs. Shaw, 4;15 p.m.

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