‘Hitting,’ playing ‘D’

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Andalusia 8U All-Stars shown in the front row from L to R: Dylan Jackson, Garrett Blackston, Noah Whiddon, Matthew McDonald, Jack Day and Griffin Kennedy. Back row from L to R: Levi Peppers, Tucker Glenn, Drew Seymore, Mitch McGlamory and Terrance Salter. Coaches: Robert Jackson, Tim Day and Shannon Glenn. Not shown: Coach Daks Kennedy. | Courtesy photo

Coaches of the Andalusia and Opp 8-and-under Cal Ripken All-Star baseball teams said “hitting” and “defense” will be the main keys to success in the 2012 8U Cal Ripken Southeast Regional Baseball Tournament this week.

“I think the main thing with these younger age groups is that you have got to be able to hit the ball, and hit with some power,” Andalusia coach Shannon Glenn said. “These teams that are coming in are so good defensively.

“These ground balls going straight at somebody are going to get the batter thrown out,” he said.

Starting tomorrow, 20 teams – including those from Andalusia and Opp – from around the Southeast will converge at Johnson Park to play in the league’s final tournament of the season. There is no World Series for the age group.

The teams are split into four divisions, North, West, South and East. Each division holds five teams.

The first two full days, and the first part of Saturday are reserved for pool play only. Each team will play four games in pool play.

Then, starting at 5 p.m. on Saturday, the tournament will transition to a single elimination championship bracket with the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds from each division playing.

The championship game is slated for 11 a.m. Sunday on Chick Earle Field.

This is the first regional tournament Andalusia has hosted. Last year, the city played host to the 2012 12U Babe Ruth Softball World Series.

“It’s a privilege for us to be the host team,” Glenn said. “It’s just going to be a really good experience for our boys.”

Andalusia will be competing in the North division, while Opp is in the West division.

The other teams in the North division are Fishhawk, Fla.; Eagle Lake, Fla.; Matthews, S.C.; and Martin, Tenn. The other teams in the West division are Okeehelee, Fla.; District 1, S.C.; Heritage Havoc, Tenn.; and Laurinburg, Tenn.

Teams in the South division include Manatee, Fla.; West Raleigh, N.C..; Lakeland, Fla.; Mims; and Stafford, Va.

Teams in the East division include Sarasota, Fla.; Matthews, Ala.; Winchester, Va.; Giles County, Tenn.; and Newbern, Tenn.

Opp’s 8U team, which won the district tournament to be able to play in the Southeast regional, will kick things off for the local teams tomorrow at 9 a.m. against Okeeheelee, Fla. (South), at 9 a.m. on Field No. 4.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for all the teams involved, especially for our community to be able to be a part of such good baseball,” Opp 8U coach Andy Cox said.

Cox said his team is treating this tournament as if it were like any other tournament during the season.

“You’ve just got to hit the baseball and play good defense,” he said. “We’re just taking it like any other tournament. That’s about all the keys to it, and the kids have to have fun and a good time.”

Andalusia will start its tournament play at 11 a.m. tomorrow against Martin, Tenn., on Chick Earle Field.

Andalusia’s Garrett Blackston, one of two 7-year-olds on the host team, said he’s really excited to be playing in the tournament.

Blackston started playing baseball three years ago, and his position is right field.

“I’m a good player, and it’s pretty fun,” Blackston said when asked why he loved baseball. “We’ve been practicing hitting this week.”

After Andalusia’s first game, the team will face Eagle Lake, Fla. (South), at 7 p.m. on Chick Earle Field to close out the first day of pool play.

Action resumes each day at 9 a.m.

When asked if he thinks the players are aware of how important the tournament is, Glenn didn’t hesitate in saying that they are.

“We’ve told them since the beginning of the season that eventually we’ll make the regional tournament,” he said. “The kids are completely aware that they are going to play the best from the Southeast.

“I reiterated to them that there isn’t one kid that’s better than them,” he said. “They know it’s important and I think these kids are ready to play.”