U-9 all-stars battle hard at state

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The 9-year -old Demopolis all-star team created its own fireworks Thursday evening when it showed up at the Cal Ripken State Tournament in Hokes Bluff.

Demopolis vs. Florence

The group&8217;s first match up pitted them against powerhouse Florence.

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After putting up just one run in the first inning, the Tiger&8217;s bats exploded for eight runs in the second and five in the fifth to finish off Florence 14-2 in five innings of play. It was a complete team performance according to assistant coach Brian Sellers.

Demopolis vs. Coosa

The Tigers took on the eventual state champion, Coosa, at 8 a.m. the next morning, and by the second inning it looked as if the Tigers were slipping.

Luke Yelverton, the starting pitcher for Demopolis, needed only seven pitches in the first inning to get Coosa&8217;s first three batters out. But in the second inning proved a different story. The first three batters all worked Yelverton to a full count and each batter reached base on errors, as the defense failed to handle easy routine ground balls.

Yelverton stepped off the mound, told his teammates it&8217;s OK, stepped back on the rubber, took a deep breath and proceeded to strike out the next three batters with only 11 pitches.

Jacob Rodrigues got things going offensively for the Tigers in the top of the third with a monster shot to the fence in centerfield. Mark Joseph Johnson brought Rodrigues home, and the Tigers went into the bottom of the third leading 1-0.

Blackburn took over for Yelverton on the mound and uncharacteristically issued a lead-off walk. The next batter struck out, but the third batter popped up between the short stop and pitcher and neither player made what should have been a routine play. With runners at first and second, the biggest player in the tournament, Coosa&8217;s clean-up batter Sean Benson stepped to the plate.

With one pitch the big slugger hit a dribbler to the short stop for what looked like a sure double play.

Blackburn got the next batter to ground out with just one pitch again. Now with two outs, bases loaded, and the No. 6 batter at the plate with a full count, the Tigers actually looked as though they might get out of the inning unscathed. Blackburn brought the heat with a fastball, low and away, and it was all the batter could do to put his bat on it.

That proved enough, as the swing produced a looping line drive that hit on the foul line in right field and didn&8217;t stop until it settled in the corner of the field. It turned out to be a grand slam homerun. The Tigers would give up one more unearned run before closing the third inning, trailing 5-1.

Coosa didn&8217;t get close to scoring again, as Blackburn and then Johnson silenced their bats the remainder of the game, but the damage had been done.

Adam Brooker was the lead off batter in the top of the sixth and got things going quickly by beating out a grounder to first base. Adam Sellers followed, and after looking at three consecutive balls found a pitch he liked and took it to left center for an RBI double. With the score cut to 5-2, no outs, and the heart of the order coming up, it looked as if the Tigers might pull it out, but the group eventually fell to Coosa, 5-2.

Demopolis vs. Monrovia

The Tigers had to get over the loss quickly, because they had an 8 p.m. game with one of the best teams in the tournament.

Monrovia had lost to Coosa the night before by one run after leading Coosa for five innings. With Demopolis at 1-1 and Monrovia at 0-1, both clubs realized they could not afford another loss if they wanted to make it to the championship round on Sunday.

The Tigers got things going once again with the 1-2-3 punch of Brooker, Sellers and Rodrigues. Brooker got on with a leadoff single, Sellers put down a sacrifice bunt to advance Brooker to second, and Rodrigues brought him home on a line drive to left.

That would be all the scoring by either team until the top of the fourth inning. The pitching of Yelverton and Blackburn backed up by a stingy defense, allowed only four Monrovia batters to reach base in the first three innings, until Monrovia tied the game in the fourth inning off defensive errors.

With the game tied, two outs, runners at second and third and the top of the order due up, Monrovia looked poised to take over the game. With the count 3-2, the No. 9 batter hit a short foul ball next to the first base dugout. Tiger first baseman Adam Sellers laid out over the rocks and gravel in the on deck circle and came up with the third out to turn away Monrovia&8217;s only chance to take the lead.

Clay White got things going in the bottom of the fourth with a lead off single. Blackburn moved him around to third, when No. 9 batter Will Webb stepped to the plate and executed a perfectly timed bunt that would score White and prove the difference in the game.

Mark Joseph Johnson preserved the win for the Tigers, recording five strikeouts and issuing just one walk in the final two innings of the game. While the Demopolis bats struggled once again to consistently find the ball, the pitching staff had no trouble finding the strike zone as they combined for an impressive 10 strikeouts, five walks, no hits and no earned runs.

The Tigers had little time to savor this victory, as an unkind schedule had them playing undefeated Semmes, eventual runner-up to Coosa, at 8 a.m. the next morning, another sunrise game.