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Belmont Bandits 11U baseball team

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Georgia on my mind

Jul. 1, 2019

Our crew went down for a fun-filled long weekend in the greater Savannah, Georgia area to compete against some local teams, which include Georgia and low country South Carolina boys. We also got to play against a team made up mostly fellow North Carolinians from the eastern seaboard and Virginia state line based out of Elizabeth City. This was the biggest Top Gun event in this area of Georgia in their history, so we were happy to be involved. At the end of the weekend, we went 6-0 and snared the Gold Championship in this three-day tournament that tested our pitching, patience, will and resolve. All of those things were proven to be intact and ultimately bolstered by trial and error and new opportunities given and taken.

We had rough weather while we were in town to play ball. The weather is as unpredictable as the scenery is beautiful, so we had to focus, re-focus and start, stop a whole lot during the weekend. On day one (Friday), we had two games scheduled to play. We had the very unusual one hour and thirty minute game times all weekend due to rain issues…so it made it tough to do what was needed to secure victories in short time, and against some slower pace teams. We watched a lot of three inning games with other teams facing each other this weekend, which limits your opportunities to score runs on offense. We competed well in both of those and were able to beat a local team Chain Gang/Chambliss by a score of 10-5. In Game two, we Defeated Scoutz USA 13-7. Even though we controlled both games very heavily, we had to fight tooth and nail for every inch in EVERY one of our games. There is a lot of pride in these Georgia communities, so even when you could be up 11-0 and secure the number one seeding, “things” happen to help extend the games a little bit. Mercy flags aside, we closed out that last game, and ended up being the #4 seed even though the scoreboards did not reflect how dominant our play was on the field that first day. Perfect opportunity to show the boys how life ain’t fair again….and those people helped make our crew a little tougher and mentally sharp. We appreciate the help.

Saturday provided unpredictable weather, long waits and eager anticipation of play only to be doused with frustration and unknown. If we would have closed out the second game the previous night, we would have had a later start time, and less unknown for our games on Saturday, but going the hard path is sometimes fun too. We played at 11am on Saturday in game three and cruised past the Hilton Head Hurricanes 12-4. We ended up being at the ballfield all day long on Saturday in anticipation of playing more games, but had to wait on other games’ outcome due to being the #4 seed. On top of that, we had to wait on the rain showers that pelted us while on site. The site director had some of his regular help out of town this weekend, so he was a little thin on grounds crew. We had a huge monsoon pour down around mid day, and the infield that we were supposed to play on was under water. We were told that the field was unplayable, and we would have to wait and possibly not play games due to weather/field issues. We were playing at a complex that had four new fields, and four older fields right beside it. We were going to have to move to the “older” fields, but games would be condensed, shortened and possibly not played dependent upon anymore rain activity that might come. I half heartedly dispatched Jonathan Spargo and John Bradley to go commandeer a lonely-looking John Deere 3-wheel drag we kept walking past into the ballpark every day so we could make this field playable as we looked over the field conditions. Five minutes later, here comes Spargo driving down the sidewalk on that John Deere that he liberated with Bradley’s mischievous help. The dads and coaches take to the field to get it ready until the site director stops us, again reassuring our group that this field is done and unable to be used for play. We like to practice what we preach to our boys. We didn’t come down to Georgia to play half the games, and we aren’t going to sit around and make an excuse up why we shouldn’t do a little work. We figured….it can either be playable tonight, or tomorrow depending on weather. So, we spent forty-five minutes on that field, and got it about 95% ready to play as the sun slowly helped bake out some of the standing water off. It rained later that night, so we didn’t end up playing on it again. But – little boys have eyes and ears;  they saw their dads see a problem, take action, do a fix, work together and not complain. We probably did more for helping shape their character in those forty-five minutes than anything else we’ve done this month.  So, now we left the fields on Saturday 3-0, and ready for whatever gauntlet of games that awaited us on Sunday. Sidenote….later that night, the men of the team completely dominated the Bandit ladies in a bowling competition. The women showed strong out of the gate, but we channeled our curly headed, mustachioed bowling persona named “Rick” that lives in every Caucasian man, and bowled our hearts out….and we took the victory over the ladies.

After the men’s triumphant bowling victory, we had to play a lot of baseball to finish out the tournament strong and keep advancing. It was a double elimination tournament, so continuing to win every game was crucial. We had to play our games in the older/smaller ballparks on Sunday. With a 201 fence the whole way around, you would think we would blast 10-15 home runs in a three game stretch. But, the 10’ high fence, good opposing pitching, and very low and questionable strike zone helped keep those balls inside the fences. We did rattle the fences a whole lot, and you can’t be too upset with swings that produce double digit line shots that hit the fence in the air from your offense. With the opponent outfield doing the normal umbrella defense, and holding the line shots to singles….it meant base to base play was in order. If we were playing on 250 foot or bigger fields….boy would we have some fun!!! In overall Game four (and first on Sunday), we topped the Carolina Titans Blue 9-5. This is the team that is based out of Northeastern North Carolina. They have twenty active players listed on their roster, so I’m not sure which 10 players we saw in Savannah…but the players they had this weekend made up a good team, and they are well-coached. According to TravelBall247 they are ranked #3 in their Coastal NC region in NC, and #18 in NC coming into last weekend.

Game five was against one of the two MOST local teams…as they were based out of Pooler, Georgia…which was the tournament site of our 11u portion of this tournament. We played Line Drive 11u (GA) in our second game of the day, and fifth overall. This was a tough matchup, as the Line Drive 11u team was ranked pre-season #88 nationally by Perfect Game. We had a tense, action filled game with lots of big swings of momentum. Inning ending double plays, and hot shot line outs that were inches away from breaking the game open for our side happened a couple of times. We came away with a 4-1 win in this game too, and here again we would have loved to have had those line shots off the fence be on a bigger field. We saw a lot of great OF play this weekend, and this team was maybe the best. They were able to get to routine balls effortlessly, and hot shots were tracked down and gotten in quickly. We were impressed as a coaching staff, and it made us have to work harder at the plate. Eight or nine doubles works better than eight or nine singles in baseball. The short game times, and base to base play due to field size meant lower scoring than it would have been regularly, but we did enough to get the satisfying win.

That win over Line Drive 11u propelled us into the Championship game. The Carolina Titans came into that game with only one loss….which was earlier to the Bandits. This rematch game was against a top Twenty 11u team in NC, and if you know anything about sports you understand that it’s very hard to beat a good team twice….much less twice in the same day. So, we had our hands very full with a capable bunch that came out just as strong in game two as they did in game one. We were able to squeeze by the Carolina Titans Blue 4-3 which included late inning heroics by our team. We were the home team, and had last at bat which was crucial for this scene:

We got great pitching all weekend by guys that have not had a whole lot of innings on the mound this year, but I absolutely believe in what they can do on the mound as evidenced by their chances this weekend. We had good pitching the whole weekend from everyone who pitched. Bug Green, Zeke Pruitt and Walker Spargo came in and gave great efforts. We have other guys on the roster that have pitched in the past, and will continue to pitch when the time is right. Mason Wells, Brody Crawford and Hunter Hartness came in to prove once again that the stat sheet doesn’t lie about who can pitch. Those three had to come in during crucial portions of our games this weekend, and came up big stopping the offenses that were sending the ball out of the park against some of our more seasoned pitchers. These three all came in to pitch the majority of the Championship game, and locked down the Titans to set our offense up for a chance to finish the deal. Brody pitched a solid two innings, and then Mason came in to pitch another solid two. Hunter entered the game to pitch from being a sub during the final inning (fifth) for Mason….also taking his spot in the lineup for the last inning. Hunter pitched out of the last inning jam, and got our offense in the dugout ready to scratch our way toward victory.

Hunter, now substituted into the game was up first in the order with our team down one run in this last inning of play. Ray Charles could even see the pressure and anxiety on everyone's face watching or playing in this game...it was real. He had a nice long at bat and earned himself a walk. The strike zone for our group in all six games was a deceptive one. I think we averaged maybe two walks per game the whole weekend? So, with pressure on both sides….Hunter won that fight with the pitcher and got on base to get things started. Brody came up and looked at a ball while the runner advanced to second base on that ball that got away from the catcher. Brody then smoked a single just barely over the outreached second baseman’s head and outreached glove and into right center. Not knowing if the defender would make a play on the ball, and with zero outs, the runner had to hold tight at second base to make sure the hit got through….and then advanced to third once it was past the defender. If he hadn’t have hit the ball so hard, or in that particular spot – we could’ve easily scored here to tie the game. Most importantly – that swing got a late inning rally started that continued on. We were left with runners on the corners and no outs with Carsten Green coming to bat. The Titan coaches did the right thing, and intentionally walked him to load the bases and force easier outs at every base. Zeke Pruitt comes up to bat and faces an infield that’s slightly in a couple of steps in front of the bases and looking to field any hit ball and get the runner at home if possible. Hunter is on third, and by design not having too much of a lead in the event of a line drive to the P or 3B.  Zeke hits one as hard as physically possible right at the third baseman, and one false step is all it took to double off our runner at third. So, all that momentum…..suddenly lost in a cloud of bad luck. With the momentum swung securely in favor of the Titans, and down to our last out Aydan Bradley strolls up to the plate with Brody at second base and Bug at first base. Aydan absolutely rips a line shot to left field and Crawford motors around third to score. With the throw attempt late, Bug attentively advances to third and Aydan to second base. With extreme tension in the air amongst the fans, coaches and players- and with a talented pitcher on the mound- Aydan ate up the pressure and spit it out to left field with that one swing.

Now we had runners at second and third, and the ball game is tied. The Titans once again do the right thing, and intentionally walk Patrick Blee making a force out at each base. So, with two outs, bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth and final inning and with time expired on the game clock…Christopher Wurster strolls confidently into the box. The pitcher deals and gets a strike one call from the umpire. Second pitch is called a ball. On the third delivery of the at bat, Chris swings through a pitch, narrowly missing it and is now down in the count 1 ball, 2 strikes….and we have two outs. The air was as heavy with tension and pressure as it was with humidity on the fourth pitch of this late June Georgia summer at bat. The Titan ace came set, offered up his best pitch to win his team the game and WHACK! Wurster sends a fastball on the outside part of the plate screaming to the fence which scores Bug from third base and we win the game 4-3. Fireworks came early this summer for the Bandits and those boys that kept that inning alive will never forget the time that they got to play in that “bottom of the ninth” game so many boys replay in their back yards throughout childhood. In some ways, these boys are getting to live their dreams in the moment right now. There is no fluff, hype or misleading info. They put in the hard work, and actually go do the things that many pretend they have or could have done. Thank you to the families and supporters that made the trip down to Georgia with us. What a great group, what a great time, what a great ending.  

 

 

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