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Cal Ripken 14U looking for a state title

DEMOPOLIS — The city’s 14U Babe Ruth all-star team is in the final stages of its preparations for this weekend’s state tournament. The squad, which received an automatic bid into the state tournament by virtue of being the host team, has played a series of practice games in order to compensate for its lack of playing time together.

“We’ve been practicing over two weeks,” head coach Chris Stewart said of the team. “We’re ready to play.”

The team has already played practice contests against Demopolis’ 13U team, the West Alabama 15U team and the Central Alabama 15U team.

“They’re tired of practicing now. They’re ready to go,” assistant coach Eddie Polk said.

Pending the outcome of Wednesday’s contest against Central Alabama, the 14U team has gone undefeated in its practice games. As of press time, the 14U team led 9-0 in the fifth inning and had surrendered only one hit against the 15-year-olds that will represent District 10 at the state level.

“We’ve got high expectations. We expect big things,” Stewart said.

His expectations are based largely on the fact that the core of his team finished as state runner-up in the 12U Dixie Youth League two years ago before falling one game shy of playing on the final day of last year’s 13U Babe Ruth tournament.

According to Stewart, the upcoming 14U tournament has been in the back of most of the players’ minds all season long.

“Every one of them, all season long, has been looking forward to all-stars,” Stewart said.

Many of the players seemed preoccupied with thoughts of the tournament during Wednesday’s practice game.

“That’s honestly all I’ve been thinking about since the season started,” 14U player Chase Cameron said.

Their preoccupation seemed in no way anxiety-ridden as most professed an unassuming confidence in the team’s potential.

“I believe we’re ready. If we play like we can play, we’ll win it,” Kole Thrasher said of his belief in his team’s ability.

While the core of the group is nearly identical to that which made deep tournament runs over the past two seasons, there exist some key differences in the makeup of this squad. Aside from the seasoning of tournament experience, the team added two players from Linden, Matt Etheridge and Jacob Dunn.

“It’s truly a West Alabama team,” Stewart said.

In addition to the new faces, the team seems to have no shortage of leadership in its dugout.

“Our biggest leader is probably Kole,” Cameron said. “He just never gets down.”

While most acknowledged the positive impact of Thrasher’s presence and encouraging words, the popular feeling seemed to be that leadership was also a collaborative effort.

“It’s a team thing,” Pierre Thomas said.

While the group seems to possess the intangibles necessary to win, it also boasts a stellar collection of talent that appears to have the ability to compete with nearly anyone.

“We’ve got eight kids that saw a good deal of pitching during the season,” Stewart said. “We’ve got four of five guys that we feel like we’re going to start.”

In addition to its pitching depth, Stewart also believes his team possesses speed in key areas throughout its defensive alignment and lineup. If the roster hits the ball the way its coaches anticipate, it could very well meet its professed goal of reaching the regional tournament in Theodore.

“They’re a super group. I’ve watched these boys grow into young men,” Stewart, who has been involved with the group over the last several years, said. “They’re a lot of fun to coach. We just hope we can represent the city of Demopolis well. We truly want to be playing in regionals in Theodore in the next round.”