Columbus National League all-star Max Gee feels like his main task is to provide a spark.
“My job as the lead-off man is to get on base and make things happen,” Gee said. “I know it is my job to make sure we have a good game.”
Gee did get on base Monday afternoon and he and his teammates made several things happen.
Behind an eight-run first inning, Columbus breezed past Starkville 11-1 in a semifinal round game of the Dizzy Dean 11-12-year-old south state tournament at Propst Park.
In today’s final round, Starkville faces Louisville at 2 p.m. The winner of that game would have to knock off Columbus twice, with the first game set for 4 p.m. Columbus can lock down the championship and a berth at the Dizzy Dean World Series in Southaven with one more victory.
“Essentially, this same group of kids have finished as the runner-up each of the last two years,” Columbus National coach Chad Moody said. “It is very important to them to not only be in the championship but to be able to win it this time.”
An effort similar to Monday’s will go a long way toward securing a championship.
Columbus scored eight runs on five base hits in the first inning. The big blow in the inning was a mammoth two-run home run by Jaelan Craddieth. This shot landed past the automobiles parked beyond the left center field wall.
“It felt good to get that big hit,” Craddieth said. “The whole team really hit the ball. That is why we won the game. Our hitting was real good.”
Batting from the top two spots in the lineup, Gee and Craddieth reached base safely in six of seven at-bats before the contest was halted after four innings by the run rule. Gee had two singles, a walk and two RBIs. Craddieth had the two-run home run, an RBI-double and RBI-single.
“They are my go-to men at the top of the lineup,” Moody said. “They get on base all the time and make things happen. In our last game, the bottom of the lineup really had a bunch of hits. That is why we are a dangerous team. I think we have some really good balance.”
Columbus also has pitching, fielding and speed. The Nationals stole eight bases Monday. The pitching duo of Cameron Bartley and Ethan Bryan combined to limit Starkville to two hits.
“If we hit the ball, we usually do really good,” Craddieth said. “We have a lot of guys who don’t get out a lot, so it makes it hard for the pitcher to throw strikes and get a lot of guys out.”
For Columbus, an eight-hit attack also included a single and triple by Seth Harris. Jedarius Gore also had a single.
Ethan Prather and Bates Bennett each had singles for Starkville. Nason Heflin threw the first three innings and took the loss.
For Columbus, the victory was important and now enthusiasm builds for the championship. The team broke its post-game huddle to the phrase “championship.”
“We want to come out here and win one more game,” Gee said. “We feel like we have the type of team that can get that done.”
In an earlier contest Monday, Louisville eliminated the Columbus Americans, 12-2. For Columbus, Steele Altmyer had two singles, while Jarrod Bush tripled and Adolphus Brewer singled.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.