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2017 BELMONT BANDITS
Dec 8, 2017 - 2017 ending just like it started: work
The quiet struggle of getting better. The long hours when you think nobody is watching. The grind. We have some boys putting in time, and it will show during the 2018 season those that put in the hard work here in 2017 while others were snoozing. It's a whole lot easier to lose 25 pounds in three months than it is get good at a specific baseball skill. Some guys pick up skills quicker than others, and for some guys it seems really easy to get by at this point; but baseball continues to get harder every year, like no other sport. Coaches can't control the other pitcher's pitch, or how hard they hit a ball to you. There is nobody else to blame at that point. To rest happily in your baseball ability is an acknoledgement that you are done trying to advance. There is no confidence as solid as knowing you have prepared yourself as best you could for the rigors of an impending travel baseball season. Showing up and thinking you can do it simply is not good enough. Actions speak louder than words, and being outworked by others isn't allowed.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.
Jul 26, 2017 - White Lightning
For those of you who have been around here long enough, or grew up going – Carowinds used to have a roller coaster called White Lightning. White Lightning had a long line with a lot of anticipation, but was an extremely quick, exhilarating ride that was over before you realized it. Our season was kinda like that. We couldn’t wait for the season to begin, and once we got on the ride it was a roller coaster of emotion filled with extreme highs and unforgettable memories... but now we have to get back in line to ride again next year. We made it through a tough two games early Sunday, and got to the Gold Championship game…effectively the state championship, although more than one state’s best teams were represented. We came up short in this game, and sorta ran out of gas. We had a lot of unusual lazy swings that produced pop ups and weakly hit, easy to play ground outs. We weren’t hitting the pitcher’s pitch….we just weren’t hitting well or with any juice. It’s hard to blame the guys for that….they played 7 games in about 54 hours. Hell, I was tired… and I was just standing around.
We had some great pitching the first three innings from Zeke Pruitt. Patrick Blee, Brody Crawford and Walker Spargo came into pitch solidly as well….but we had a bad five minutes during one inning, and that ultimately cost us dearly. The bottom four in their lineup scored all four runs consecutively on some thrown away balls and mental mistakes primarily. We got to the point where some guys ran out of pitching, but in this type of tournament you pitch the guys to get to the next inning or game. We did pretty well staggering our pitching, but ran into a Mexican speedbump that helped to derail our already fragile attempts to compete in baseball this one last time in 2017.
Offensively, we had sporadic hitting. Brody Crawford was 1-3 (double), Bug Green was 1-3 (single, run), Aydan Bradley was 1-2 (single) and Dalton Skipper was 1-2 (single, run). Just like in the previous game, we had another at bat that stuck out to the coaches and fans in this game. This time it was Walker Spargo. In the second inning, he ran a count full and kept battling the pitcher by fouling off 7-8 more pitches. I guess the only guy in the park unimpressed with his tenacity and aggressive protection of the strike zone was the umpire, because after proving he would swing at anything CLOSE to a strike, the ump called him out looking on a strikeout on about the 13th or 14th pitch of the at bat. SMH. Communism.
The competition in this game was really good, but it sure wasn’t anything we hadn’t seen before; the game boiled down to our guys not making the plays on defense we had to when it counted to get the win. We didn’t hit great either, but we did enough to win on offense. We had a bad defensive half inning, which really was a bad five minutes out of the whole game….but that’s all it took to see four runs up on the scoreboard. We finally scored a run in the fifth when Bug Green singled. We got Landon King to run for our catcher, and he moved around the bases deftly. He put on a fantastic delay steal that got him into position to score, and Aydan Bradley’s single got him in. At least we were on the board, but we came into the bottom of the fifth down 4-1 with no momentum. The next at bat was the sixth (and LAST) inning, if we couldn’t pull a rabbit out of the hat. Walker Spargo started us off right by getting on first by getting beaned. Dalton Skipper had a HUGE single that scored Spargo, and cut the lead to 4-2. Skipper got to second when Blake Hartness grounded out to the first baseman. Brody Crawford was now up, and knocked a nice double to the outfield and plated Skipper to make the score 4-3. So, now we had 1 out and a fast guy on second base ready to tie the game in the last inning. Pruitt came up and reached base on an infield pop up error to third base, so we couldn’t advance the runner from second. But, now we had the tying and WINNING run on first and second base, with only one out. Unfortunately Park Sharon made some good pitches and plays to get our last two guys out, and they won the game. We lost to Park Sharon 4-3.
Congrats to a great team. They made minimal mistakes, and we weren’t able to come up with the plays we needed to make when it counted to beat them again. They won last year’s 8u Summer Nationals as well I believe, so they are the two-time defending champs at this point. Those boys know what they are doing on the field.
On the long weekend, we lost three games by a total of four runs. We didn’t play great in any of those three losses, and as always the team that beats you has a lot to do with that. I would just have rather seen Park Sharon earlier in the tournament instead of in that 7th, and oh so pivotal game. The Roberson game took a lot of emotion, pitching and play out of us and it is hard enough to beat these type caliber teams on your best day. We played teams from all over the state without prejudice or fright - and as the curtain falls on our last weekend of baseball this year it is fun to think back just how far the boys have come as a team. All in all – we had a great season. Very proud of what the boys accomplished at their stopping point of play this season. From the Top Gun website - our year's final results:
Jul 24, 2017 - The Wild Side; Final day of play, Game 2
The heat, the drama, the expectations, the hopefulness....the heat. Win or go home was the credo for the day, so we set out to keep on winning. This was the final day of the 'Summer National Championship' as presented by Top Gun. They got the best teams in the state of NC and the upstate of SC to show up in a venue very close to Charlotte, and battle it out for supremacy of 9u baseball. We practice to get better at baseball, and then we like to go test ourselves. These guys play a sport called baseball. To make light of it, or pretend it means nothing just means you weren't good enough to be there. Congrats to all the teams good enough to be there, and most importantly for bringing a great challenge in each and every game played amongst each other.
Next up for us was what many consider to be the top team in the state: The Roberson Ramblers. They are very talented, have a great HS coach doing all the right things for and with the players, and were 4-0 coming into this game for a reason. I considered them to be the team to beat in this tournament, and sure enough our paths met again. Earlier in the year we played the most efficient 9u baseball game I've ever seen two teams perform. It was a defensive heavyweight fight in regular innings, and became an extra innings marathon in which we were fortunate to come out on top. They beat another top team in the tournament, Park Sharon, already and our courses were set to intersect sometime this weekend. They did around 9:40am on Sunday. After about an hour's wait, we finally got to see the first pitch thrown out and were underway.
In the first meeting, Blake Hartness pitched a gem of a game, and Landon King came in to close it out for us. In this tournament, over the course of three days, your pitching gets thin. Unfortunate for us, we got to see Roberson's number 1 and 2 pitchers in this game, as they used other guy to beat everyone else on day two of play. We gave Zeke Pruitt the ball, and he threw three complete innings and got into the fourth. He battled as good as he has all year long, and made the staff proud leading the team from the mound. Roberson scored some runs on him, but he had five strikeouts and made big pitch, after big pitch when we needed it. In the fourth he was relieve by Blake Hartness, and he pitched the rest of the fourth and all of the fifth. During his innings, he continued that unscored upon streak he had all weekend. Blake was a big reason we got a couple of our wins this weekend, and we could not have played as well as we did this year without him.
This game's tone was set with the first at bat, as the visitor team in this game, by our leadoff man - Brody. He got down 0-2 really quickly versus their flame throwing pitcher. Roberson's pitcher talent was very evident from watching them, but further evidenced by the fact that this guy threw about 10 straight pitches that were in the strike zone during this at bat. After being down 0-2 on two pitches, Crawford fouled off seven MORE pitches to stay alive. On pitch #10, he lined an opposite field single to left field and we secured the game's momentum with ten (not one) swings of the bat. He would come around to score in the first inning, but that run was not as important as the fight he showed at the plate against the top team to beat in this tournament. We pieced together three more runs over the next three innings to stay in the game. In the top of the fifth inning, we were down 7-4. We scratched out three runs in the fifth to tie the game 7-7. After Blake held Roberson to zero runs in the bottom of the fifth, we had our last at bat in this game, and possibly the season at stake.
So with 7 runs on the board for Roberson as the home team (with last at bat), we came into the top of the 6th and final inning tied. Walker Spargo started the inning off by reaching base via an unusual Roberson error. His hustle helped make him safe, and that was good as one of our best baserunners was on base with no outs. After a strikeout and then a walk, we had one out and Spargo on third. Crawford sac flies Spargo in to take an 8-7 lead, and we go into the home team's last at bat of the game hoping that these mountain boys are starting to feel the heat of the piedmont bearing down on them.
Roberson had to face a new pitcher in the sixth inning...a pitcher they were familiar with: Landon King. He was the guy who came in late to shut them down in the game earlier in the year, and mixed in three strikeouts in the last inning including the final out to secure our victory. Full of confidence and spirit, Landon took the mound against the vaunted Rambler offense. After an initial hard hit single, the tension rose for the Bandits. Landon stayed cool, and got a ground ball from the next batter and Patrick Blee and Zeke Pruitt turned a perfect 4-6-3 double play to snag momentum back, and inch a little closer to what felt like an upset to our team. Landon channelled his previous play from game 1 against the Ramblers on May 21st, and struck out the last batter of the inning and thankfully, the game. Bandits win this one, and advance to the GOLD Championship game in the Summer Nationals.
Sidenote, and yes this is a repeat: We understand this is more of a state championship game, and not any type of national championship...Still - very proud of our boys because they competed at the highest level we could find against a collection of talent and quality of 9u teams that is unparalleled around our state. There wasn't that "one" team in the tournament you don't want to see; ALL those teams were in this tournament.
Leading offensive guys in this game were: Christopher Wurster with 2-3 (two singles, 1 run), Zeke Pruitt at 2-3 (two doubles, reached via error and scored 2 runs), Patrick Blee going 2-2 (2 singles), Dalton Skipper going 1-3 with a BIG double, and Brody Crawford going 1-2 (single, sac fly in the last inning, 2 runs scored, HBP). Overall, we played pretty good team defense. We stayed tough during the heat as it wore on our guys after being in it for about five hours by the time this game concluded. What awaited was a showdown with a very tough opponent sporting a 41-9 record. Game 3 for the Bandits would be a pivotal one; it was a game we earned the hard way seeing most team's ace pitchers along the way, and scratching our way to make an appearance. Would we have enough left in the tank to strike a final blow to another Goliath?
Jul 23, 2017 - Sunday is for the boys. Game 1
As we started play on Sunday, we came in at a #7 seed. We had to win to keep playing. You lose once, you go home. Most seasons end in losses....especially for those bold enough to find the tough games, and test their skill against the very best there is to offer around these parts. Game 1 was vs. the Carolina Spinners. We played them early this year in the second game of the year in an free umpire training contest. That game counted, but we didn't feel like we got a fair shake.
7:53AM on Sunday we got busy. The Spinners are a good team with a lot of ability, and we threw Landon King at them. He would go on to pitch a gem; 5 scoreless innings of ball. We rode that thoroughbred to make sure we advanced to the next game as quickly as possible trying to avoid some of the day's heat. We knocked it around pretty good in this game, and scored consistently in most innings played. Leading the team was Zeke Pruitt with 3-3, Landon King with 2-3 including a double, Carsten Green with 2-3 including a double and Christopher Wurster with 1-3 including a double. We had a lot of guys with hits, and other ways of reaching base in this game which also proved very helpful in getting it done in about an hour's time. We were happy to be done early, but it didn't mean we wouldn't have to wait about an hour to play the next game. Oh the tangled webs we weave. The wait just roused our ire, and gave us a little extra motivation to make sure we did everything we could to make hay while this sun was out.
We ended the Spinners game on a last inning double play from Patrick Blee and Zeke Pruitt. That gave us two outs, and we recorded the last out on a pop up to Walker Spargo at third base. We secured the victory, and moved onto the second game of Sunday....against the dreaded Roberson Ramblers...probably the best team in the tournament. They were 4-0 before we played them, and were cruising toward an easy summer nationals title. We had battled in an extra innings affair earlier in the year, and it was easily one of the most well-played non-High School baseball games I've ever seen. We were about to see something similar, and everyone could feel it in the air.
Jul 23, 2017 - Day 2 of Summer Nationals brings the heat
Oh the new faces we saw this weekend, all weekend long. When you hear of others say that they don't hold tryouts or recruit, don't believe the lie. The teams we saw this weekend are made up of a collection of committed players and families, and it showed.
Good teams abound all over the place in this tourny. The bold show up to play ball, and the faint of heart show up at Sweet Frog. Had two games on Saturday, and they didn't disappoint too much. Game 1 vs. Wildthings Baseball out of Randolph County. Game 2 vs. Mallard Creek Miners 9u. The action began at 12:22...and as Glenn Frey used to sing - The heat is on....
Game 1 we came out with a 14-3 victory for those supporters that were unable to make the trip. It was a hot, fun day of ball. We jumped on this team early and never let up. We were still smarting from a loss we felt shouldn't have happened on day one, and we set out to right the ship early. We placed 4 in the first, 2 in the second, and finished up with a strong 4 runs in the fourth and fifth, respectively. Blake Hartness was straight fire all weekend on the mound. On the weekend, he pitched 8 scoreless innings, broken up amongst three games. Fresh off a beach trip, he traded in his flip flops for strikeouts and weakly hit grounders on Saturday and Sunday. Defense was pretty good this game, and the game was ended on a hard hit ball to centerfield, which Brody C. caught on the run and doubled up the runner at first base as Landon King stretched and snagged the ball to secure the win. As sweet Trey would say....."oooooaaahhh, ooooaahhh". Leading our offense was diminutive Brody Crawford. He was 4 for 4 in this game, and unconscionable at the plate the first two games of this tournament. He scored four runs, and sparked our offense all weekend long. One of his hits was an opposite field double off the wall that almost marked the third HR of the game for the Bandits. Zeke Pruitt came in hot with a sweet 3-3 effort, and oh yeah- as our friendly northern umpire called it, hit a "dong" to left field. He also had a walk and two doubles on the day, plus scored 4 runs. Christopher Wurster went 3-3 with a Home Run to his name, and also added two singles. Both Chris and Zeke's shots were line drives, and both were sweeter than sweet tea. Carsten Green also got into the action on offense going 4-4 including a double and scored 2 runs. Landon King tallied a 2-4 effort including a double and two runs scored. It was a fun game on both sides of the ball. We played aggressively, and we played well. We had a nice comfortable lead in this one, but we did try to stretch some pitching and allowed three late runs...but it would help in games to come in this action-packed tournament.
Game 2 had us facing the Mallard Creek Miners 9u team. We had Blake Hartness pitch another 3 innings scoreless in this game. Would've been nice to clone Blake on the mound this weekend, because he held opponents in check over and over again no matter who showed up to bat. We kinda played like crap in this game. We had a weekend full of those "oh yeah, we haven't played or practiced much in the last month" moments. Those moments showed a couple times, and cost us dearly. Some typical plays, scenarios and swings that were easy a month or two ago, didn't work out as easily this weekend. Part of it has to do with the great competition we faced, but we all saw our atypical unforced errors. It's football season in Belmont, as everyone knows....and we were playing baseball like football players at times. Still - we gave great efforts in all our games, and even in the losses we were proud of the guys. We lost this game late- in a 10-11 fashion. Tough loss for us. A bounce here or there, even with our sloppy play would've made a big difference in how we expected and liked the outcome. Oh well. We didn't have much offensive fireworks in this game, but did have Crawford reaching base 3 times out of 4, Landon King with a triple and Dalton Skipper getting down a couple great bunts in crucial times. We liked the fight we saw, and we should have been done in about 3 innings in this game. Oh well...such is baseball. It's anybody's game at anytime. Any team can beat another always; we know that, and this team came ready to snatch victory from our hands, and accomplished their mission. Good for them.
One more day of baseball left....and we are 7 seeded with our rag tag play. It's a tournament unlike anything else around here, with every team showing everything they can do including their new pick ups and strong pitching. Some really legit programs still left to face on Sunday, and they show up with their own guys too - a respectable move.
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