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Demopolis 8U team getting it together

The Demopolis 8U all-star team will get started in District 10 play Monday when it hosts Butler at 6 p.m. The team worked around thunderstorms and heat waves to get in its practice time over the last few weeks.

Over that time, head coach Ronnie Cox, along with his assistant coaches Roger Etheridge, Jason Turberville and Gary Malone, has tried to make headway in identifying who his starters might be when the district tournament opens.

“We’ve got 13 good kids this year,” Cox said. “I hate to put anybody on the bench. It’s going to come down to effort.”

The 8U team is different from its Cal Ripken counterparts in that it is a machine-pitch age group and can spend more time focusing on hitting and fielding. Cox said those elements of the game will be the lifeblood of this group’s success.

“Fundamentals. Nothing but fundamentals,” he said of the coaching staff’s focus over the last few weeks. “We practice about 10 minutes a day on throwing and catching, about 20 on fielding and the rest on hitting.”

In order to help his players adjust to live game situations, Cox has often mixed batting practice with fielding practice, allowing four players to work on their hitting and base running while simultaneously providing live-game simulation to the nine fielders.

“It is very important,” Cox said of the simulation. “They can field and hit, but when you put a runner on, that distracts them. That’s why we’re doing the live hitting.”

One benefit this year’s 8U team holds over its predecessors is that the 2010 group has spent the entire season hitting at or near the pitching machine’s maximum speed of 45 miles per hour.

“Last year we started out slow and gradually increased (the speed),” Cox said. “Every time we increased it, they were playing catch-up and trying to adjust to it. this year we started out fast and they were on it from the beginning.”

The Demopolis 8U team will open Monday against Butler before hosting Linden Tuesday and Greensboro Wednesday. Demopolis will wrap up pool play by visiting Livingston Thursday. All those games are scheduled to start at 6 p.m. The top four seeds after pool play will advance to Saturday’s tournament play with the championship game scheduled for a best two-out-of-three format Monday.