For the Columbus National League all-stars, it was a championship three years in the making.
After back-to-back near-misses in the past two years, Columbus closed the deal Tuesday, knocking off Louisville 6-4 to win the Dizzy Dean 11-12-year-old south state tournament championship at Propst Park.
With the victory, Columbus advances to the Dizzy Dean World Series, which begins July 20 in Southaven. After winning back-to-back south state championships, Louisville had to settle for second place but is still hopeful for an at-large berth to the World Series.
“I am really proud because they had beaten us the last two years,” winning pitcher Ethan Bryan said. “It’s different when you are 12 and this is the last time you are going to be able to do this for the rest of your life. I think we played a little harder because it was our last chance to win the championship.”
Columbus won all four games it played in the tournament. The Nationals had blitzed Starkville 11-1 in the semifinal round on Monday. They then watched as Louisville had to work its way past both the Columbus Americans and Houston Monday and Starkville earlier in the day Tuesday. Despite having a huge advantage, coach Chad Moody knew things would be different when the championship trophies were brought out for the final match.
“Louisville has a really great team and we knew it would be tough for us to get the job done,” Moody said. “When you get to the last game, you are playing on adrenaline, so we knew it would be tough. We pretty much played our cards right the entire tournament.”
Louisville flexed its offensive muscle early Tuesday by posting a 15-3 win over Starkville. The momentum carried over as Louisville quickly grabbed a 2-0 lead after one inning of the championship bout.
Columbus starting pitcher Cameron Bartley was working his way through some arm stiffness on the mound. Entering down 2-0, Bryan threw the next couple of innings to garner the win, while Rye McGlothin threw the final three innings to earn a save.
“(Winning the championship) is really a good feeling because the had beaten us the last two years,” McGlothin said. “Every player can play every position on this team. That is why we are successful. Anyone can play anywhere at anytime. If one player is struggling, some one else is going to pick up the load. That is why we win.”
Moody referenced his team’s balance Monday after the victory over Starkville. Max Gee and Jaelan Craddieth combined to reach base six times in that victory. On this day, the big bats belonged to Bryan and Bartley.
Bryan had a walk, sacrifice fly and RBI-double to dead center. Bartley had two run-producing hits and also drew a walk.
In the second inning, Bryan walked and scored on an RBI-double by Bartley.
The locals took the lead for good with two runs in the third inning. Bartley drove in the game-tying run with his sacrifice and saw Bartley follow up with another RBI-base hit.
Columbus then removed all doubt by scoring three times in the fifth inning shortly after a 47-minute rain delay.
“Everybody hits and everybody plays defense,” Bryan said. “Everybody has a purpose on this team. However, it really is the coaching. The coaches led us here. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be here. From the beginning of this tournament, we thought this year could be different.”
The ending was different indeed.
As perhaps some nervousness set in, three walks and a base hit allowed Louisville to claw within two runs.
However, a called third strike ended the contest and started a raucous celebration on the mound with McGlothin mobbed by his teammates.
“We dedicate this tournament to (former New Hope High School football player) Park Stevens,” McGlothin said. “He was killed in a car wreck last week and we did this in his honor.”
Columbus did save its best for last.
The locals were flawless in the field, including a pair of defensive stabs made by third baseman Avery Benson, who is known affectionately to his teammates as “Biscuit.”
Now, Columbus moves on to the national stage. For most players on this team, this is a third straight World Series berth.
“It is a big accomplishment for these guys to be going back to the World Series,” Moody said. “We finished seventh two years ago and fifth last year. Our goal is to keep moving up. We have the type of team that can win some games.”
Consider, the Nationals ready.
“We can’t wait to go there and show people what we got,” Bryan said.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.