Now the Caledonia High School baseball players have to build on what they accomplished in the summer and this weekend at the Dizzy Dean tournament.
Luke Eads” home run with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning helped Caledonia rally for a 7-6 victory against New Hope in the semifinals in the Dizzy Dean tournament at Columbus High School.
Evan Tidwell limited Caledonia to six hits later Sunday to lift Zachary (La.) to a 3-0 victory in the tournament”s championship game.
Despite the loss, Caledonia, which defeated St. John (La.), Kosciusko, and Columbus earlier in the tournament, made strides coming off an 8-16 high school season in which it was competitive in nearly all of its losses. Caledonia led or was tied in 13 of its losses in the high school season, leading fans of the Confederates to wonder what could have been if the team had found ways to finish games.
Caledonia had the finishing kick in the summer before falling to Zachary (La.) in the title matchup of the three-day, nine-team event.
Still, Caledonia coach Cooper Robertson was pleased with his team”s performance.
“We improved a lot,” Robertson said. “We had several players this summer step up. They still have a lot of improving to do, but overall they stepped up when they needed to and got the job done.”
Robertson said Caledonia”s biggest improvements were in hitting and fielding. Eads epitomized the maturation of Caledonia”s hitters, as the center fielder had a two-run double that went off the glove of left fielder Dusty Dyson in a four-run second and then smacked the game-winning home run against New Hope.
Montana Jacobs also had three hits and an RBI, while Trey Lancaster had an RBI single in the second inning. It was part of five consecutive hits that came after two outs.
In the field, shortstop Caleb Brown and second baseman Blake Burke combined on a nice force play in the fifth. Caledonia also erased a runner at home and at third in the first and the potential tying run that reached to start the seventh.
Starting pitcher Brandon Darling settled down after allowing eight of his 12 hits in the first two innings. Dyson had an RBI single and Landon Boyd had an RBI double in the first, while Taylor Stafford had a home run, Tee Payne had a double, and Will Golsan had an RBI single in the second.
Thomas Woodruff doubled and scored on a fielder”s choice in the fifth, but the left-handed Darling settled in after Robertson said he didn”t have a lot of time to get warm before the start of the game.
New Hope coach Lee Boyd noticed Caledonia”s improvement.
“He threw well for them,” Boyd said. “I give those guys all of the credit in the world. Their guy hit a home run to win the game, no question about it. They deserved to win the ballgame.”
Darling, a rising senior, struck out three, walked none, and hit a batter. He faced two more than the minimum in the final five innings.
“I think he threw seven pitches in the bullpen before the game,” Robertson said. “He just had to get out there and get in a rhythm and get in a zone. Once he did, he settled down and looked pretty good. He located really well.”
Still, Boyd thought his team got “complacent” after its fast start and didn”t realize how much opponents, especially rivals like Caledonia, want to beat New Hope.
Against Zachary (La.), Burke and starting pitcher Cody Allsup, who was limited to two innings, singled with two outs but were stranded. Darling and Nathan Kendrick singled in the second but were left at second and first.
Caledonia used errors in the third and fifth to push runners to third, but neither of the situations came with less than two outs. In the third, Caledonia had a runner thrown out at second base for the second out.
Boyd, coaches, and fans at Columbus High all commented on Caledonia”s improvement, but Robertson and coach Jason Dyer know all of the players have more work to do to make it pay off in 2012.
“If they can take what they used this summer and use it in the spring they should go undefeated,” Robertson said. “Like coach (John) Wilson said a minute ago, they learned how to finish a game this summer. In the spring, they couldn”t finish one. That is why they lost so many. If they can carry that on into the spring they should to pretty well.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.