June 30, 2011

It’s all about the all-stars

Whitfield Aces lead area’s charge in Dizzy Dean play

By Marty Kirkland

— All-star youth baseball and softball teams from the Whitfield County Parks and Recreation Department have stayed busy during the past month, and they have no plans for a holiday in their quest for titles.

Four WCPRD all-star baseball teams begin play in Dizzy Dean state tournaments today or Saturday, including the 7-year-old Class A Whitfield Aces, who recently won the District 1 title in Chatsworth. The Aces — who went 4-0 in district play while outscoring opponents 77-34 — begin play in their Class A state tournament today with a 6 p.m. game against East Cherokee at Harmon Field in Canton.

Aces coach DeWitt Morrison is confident about his team’s potential to keep turning in favorable results.

“There’s going to be some strong competition at the state level, and there’s 24 teams there, so it will be a different level of ball for sure,” Morrison said. “But I think based on our margin of victory in the four games we played at district, we should be very competitive, if not a favorite. I may be putting some pressure on ourselves right there, but I feel like we should be one of the top teams when it comes down to it.”

While Morrison hasn’t had this group of players together for very long — all-star teams form after regular season play concludes in May, leaving only a couple of weeks to prepare for district tournaments — they’ve quickly impressed their coach with their attitude and ability to adapt and learn, not to mention their talent.

Scoring hasn’t been a problem so far, with their closest game a 13-8 victory against Murray County, and making up the 10-player batting order is one of the easiest chores Aces coaches have, Morrison said, because everyone is solid at the plate and it’s just a matter of spreading out the best hitters to make sure they’re able to capitalize on scoring opportunities.

While there have been standout efforts — after the championship victory, Dizzy Dean officials named Whitfield’s Payton Baker the Offensive Player of the Game and Joey Estrada the Defensive Player of the Game — Morrison said this group has undoubtedly become a team.

“The kids have done an exceptional job of making that transition from rec ball to all-stars and jelling together as a team,” Morrison said. “I’ve have little to no trouble with kids getting along. They’ve been very respectful, had good attitudes and been very coachable, and that’s a big thing at that age. So I couldn’t be happier with the group of boys we have on this team. They’re an exceptional group and I’m just thrilled to be a part of it.”

Morrison’s help for the coach-pitch team has come from assistants David Redmond, Ryan Richards and Andy Anderson, as well as Chris Frady, a parent who’s not officially on the staff but has volunteered extensively. Richards is the boys basketball coach at Northwest Whitfield High, while Redmond is an assistant for North Murray High baseball, said Morrison, who has helped coach all-star football for the WCPRD in the past but is coaching all-star baseball for the first time.

But even with a 12-player roster made up of the league’s best talent as picked by coaches, Morrison said he and his staff made a point of both starting with and sticking to fundamentals when it came time for the Aces to practice. There were additional layers added to deal with game situations, but the basics have been preached by Morrison.

And the Aces and their coaches have had to deal with a task regularly faced by youth all-star teams, too. In addition to trying to bring players from teams all around the county together, they’re having to ask players to change roles and positions. Not only can everyone not play shortstop or third base for all-star competition, players must adjust to trusting their teammates to fulfill their duties and not overstep their own bounds — which isn’t always the case during the regular season.

It has all worked out fine so far, and the Aces won’t need a title or even a standout performance at the state tournament to keep playing beyond next week, because they’ve already secured a spot in the Dizzy Dean World Series in Gordon County later this month. Still, they’d obviously like to have another big showing in Canton.

“We do really have a good ball team,” Morrison said. “I’m excited about it, they’re excited about it. No matter how close a game is or how far it’s getting out of hand, the kids never quit or let up. They have a goal in mind, and that’s to play hard — and they do.”

The double-elimination tournament will continue through the holiday weekend, with the championship series (the loser’s bracket champion would need to beat the winner’s bracket champ twice to take the title) scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday.

Whitfield County’s other 7-year-old baseball all-star squad, the Lightning, will begin play today in the Dizzy Dean Class B state tournament for their age group. Coached by Brent Richards, they’ll play at 7:15 p.m. to help kick off the 11-team, four-day tournament in Rock Springs, where the Murray County Recreation Department will also be represented by its all-star team.

The WCPRD will also have two 9-year-old baseball teams in Dizzy Dean state tournament competition this weekend. The Whitfield team coached by Jody Buckner will play at Rome’s Riverside Park in the 16-team Class A event, opening with a 3 p.m. game Saturday.

Another team, coached by Brooks Cady, won’t have to travel much at all — the WCPRD and Tunnel Hill Park will host the 15-team Class B tourney that will run each day through Tuesday. While that tournament starts today with two games each at 6 and 8 p.m., the Whitfield Nationals won’t play until noon Saturday.

And that’s hardly all for Whitfield County teams in the all-star department. In addition to the possibility of more baseball play at their respective Dizzy Dean World Series events, softball teams will jump into the action next week.

The 8-and-under pitching machine all-stars coached by Brooke Scoggins head to the Georgia Recreation and Park Association state tournament starting Wednesday in Carrollton, while the 10U live-arm all-stars led by Josh West start GRPA state play in Cherokee County on Thursday.

Then next weekend, Whitfield County will be stocked with youth softball teams as the host for the 8U, 10U and 12U Dizzy Dean state tournaments. Eight teams from Dalton or Whitfield County are among those who will compete in the events.