July 8, 2014 10:09:50 AM
BATESVILLE -- The road through the losers' bracket in any tournament is never easy.
When you're playing in a state tournament that features the best teams in the state of Mississippi, the thought of losing the first game and having to work your way back can be overwhelming.
The Caledonia 9-year-old All-Star team never let the length of its road to the championship game deter it from its goal of winning a state title. Thanks to a balanced hitting attack, strong defense, and a deep pitching staff, Caledonia defeated Columbus twice Monday to win the Dizzy Dean 9-year-old state tournament.
"I told them to take this game by game and inning by inning and don't worry about the second game," Caledonia coach Brent Hollis said. "We were big about jumping on teams in the first inning. Whoever could get the momentum going early, that always helps."
Caledonia did that Monday, beating Columbus in the first game to force a winner-take-all second game. Caledonia jumped out to a lead early in that game and cruised to the title. Scores for the games weren't available at press time.
The two victories capped a 10-game run back through the losers' bracket. The journey began Wednesday after a loss to Columbus. Caledonia stayed alive by beating Fulton. It beat Tate County and Hernando on Thursday, Saltillo on Friday, Louisville and Southaven on Saturday, and Greenwood and Starkville on Sunday to set up the rematch against Columbus.
Hollis said the team is made up of All-Stars from the five-team 9- and 10-year-old Caledonia Parks and Recreation League. He said eight of the 11 players on the roster pitched in the tournament. Each pitcher could only pitch 12 innings in the tournament, and no more than three innings without having to take a rest. Hollis said a balanced hitting attack started to fuel the team immediately after the first game against Columbus.
"We just had to keep on going somehow," Hollis said. "Overall, the kids started hitting the baseball and we were able to close a lot of those games out in three or four innings. We were hitting the ball up and down the lineup. Ending a lot of those games in three or four innings helped our pitching."
Still, the thought of winning 10 games in a row to secure a trip to the Dizzy Dean World Series is an imposing task. Hollis said his players stayed together and used solid defense and pitching to back the hitting. He said Caledonia overcame a tough Louisville team and another strong squad from Greenwood to close in on its goal.
"They started to feel good, but we had to get past Louisville, which was a tough team, and we only beat them by one run," Hollis said. "Then we had to get past Greenwood, which, in my opinion, was going to win the tournament. Somehow or another we beat them. After the Greenwood game, the kids were upbeat and there was no stopping them then."
Hollis said players Fisher Godfrey, Sammy Chapman, Carson Hollis, Parker Harris, Braxton Harris, Caleb Loftis, Matthew Byrd, Zack Gorum, Brandon Glenn, Jimmy Vineup, and Drew Pounders will go to the World Series, which will begin July 18 in Southaven. Hollis, Byron Harris, Bradley Harris, and Michael Byrd were the coaches.
After nearly a week of staying in Batesville, which is two and a half hours from Caledonia, Hollis said it still hasn't sunk in that the team won 10 games in a row to come out of the losers' bracket. He said the magnitude of the team's accomplishment likely would hit him later today at work.
"I never imagined it," Hollis said. "They never gave up. They just kept on fighting."