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Demopolis 11U team heads to Alex City

The Demopolis 11U Cal Ripken All-Star team leaves today for Alexander City where it will compete in Southeast regional play.

“It’s huge,” head coach Brian Sellers said. “People call it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Well it doesn’t come that often for most kids.”

The team, which finished as runner-up in the state tournament, received the invitation to compete in the event after Georgia failed to field a team in the age bracket.

“For our team, this is just Demopolis kids,” Sellers said. “They’ll have gone further than any Cal Ripken team from Demopolis has ever gone.”

The Demopolis boys will comprise one of three Alabama teams in the bracket, which will also feature hosts Alexander City and state champion Southern of Gadsden. The rest of the tournament field includes representatives from Virginia, Eastern North Carolina, Western North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, North Florida and South Florida.

Demopolis will open its tournament Thursday at 7 p.m. against South Carolina’s representative.

“We came close to winning a state championship,” Sellers said. “They had a phenomenal run. We just ran out of pitching.”

Sellers said his team will employ a different strategy in view of managing its arms in this tournament.

“In the state tournament, we had three pitchers pitch complete games,” Sellers said. “I think we’ve got enough pitching if we’ll just manage it wisely. We’re going to go with a strategy to win the whole thing.”

While hurlers were allowed to pitch six innings at a time in the state draw, Sellers said his pitchers will likely be limited to two innings per contest this go-round.

The team also figures to receive a boost from Luke Yelverton, who returns to action after receiving medical clearance to hit, run and play the field.

“He has been released from his doctor to do everything but pitch,” Sellers said of the young man who proved an integral part of the squad’s success at the 10U level in 2008. “We have submitted the paperwork for Luke to be a replacement.”

Yelverton, should he receive approval from the Cal Ripken district, state, regional and national commissioners, would take the roster spot of Andy Tarpley, who will honor a prior commitment in lieu of participating in the tournament.

“They’re extremely excited,” Sellers said. “We were a little rusty in our first couple of practices. They have been practicing twice a day.”

In addition to daily practices, the team has been participating in strength and conditioning exercises whose early returns have produced a spike in power production from a number of players.

The team hopes to recapture the chemistry that led it to the final round of the state bracket.

“The way the kids came together at state was just amazing,” Sellers said. “I think the thing that really brought them together when we got to state was that Luke Yelverton won the home run derby.”

Yelverton had been cleared to swing a bat by the state tournament, but was not allowed to participate in any other form. As such, team captain Drew Jones opted to give up his spot in the state home run derby to allow Yelverton to participate.

“They were as excited as if they’d won the World Series,” Sellers said of the team’s reaction to Yelverton’s accomplishment.

After Yelverton’s exhibition success, the team tore through pool play with a 14-0 victory over 2008 10U runner-up Sims, a 9-4 dispatching of 2008 10U state champ Tillman’s Corner and an 8-5 win over Childersburg. The team’s biggest struggle in pool play came against Matthews Park when it had to overcome a 5-0 deficit to win 8-7.

Sellers said one of the major differences in the team’s success this year and what it showed in 2008 is in its mental make-up. In 2008, the squad lost to Tillman’s Corner 15-4 in a pool play game that mattered little in terms of seeding. After that thrashing, the group failed to rebound.

“After that, we just didn’t play well,” Sellers said before turning his attention to another considerable contributing factor on this year’s team. “The parents came together too. I think that has a lot to do with it.”

Sellers said that, once the team really began to gel, the difference was also noticeable off the field.

“Once they started playing as a team, you didn’t hear any arguing in the dugout,” he explained. “It became about the team.”