Three teams representing Southwest in regional baseball tournaments

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 18, 2019

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By Marc Pruitt
For the Clemmons Courier

Regional championships will get underway for three baseball teams representing Southwest Athletics this week.

Two of those teams — the 12 and under Major 70 and 12 and under Major 60 both won state championships in their divisions recently at tournaments held at Southwest. The 12 and under 70 Majors, managed by Brian Vest, will head to Roanoke Rapids to begin regional tournament play on Wednesday.

The 12 and under 60 Majors, managed by Jason Holley, will be playing in Stafford, Virginia — just outside of Washington, D.C., with pool play also beginning on Wednesday.

And the 10 and under All-Stars, managed by Rob Stanton, finished runner-up in their state tournament and qualified for the regional, which will be held in Matthews.

It was the second straight state championship for the 12U Major 70 team, which gutted out a 5-4 win in extra innings in the semifinals against China Grove before winning the title game 10-0 against Hominy Valley.

“The semifinal game was a real battle and we got some great pitching in that one,” Vest said. “We’ve got several guys who can really compete for us on the mound. Our pitching and defense have been strong for us since we started. That’s what wins games for us. Between travel ball and rec ball, these guys have played a lot together. Nothing really rattles them. They are back-to-back state champions for a reason.”

Vest said that he has been keeping things fresh in the lead-up to the regional tournament, utilizing what he calls “The Gauntlet” to challenge his players while making things fun.

“It’s just different things they do, and we time them,” Vest said. “They’ve been having a lot of fun with it. It’s another way to teach them to compete. They are doing things like having to hit three straight line drives, bunting to a certain area, run with a 10-pound medicine ball, make an accurate throw to third base, and hitting balls with the opposite hand out of the infield. And we’ve had a lot of intrasquad scrimmages to keep their hitting and pitching sharp.”

Vest’s team will open pool play Wednesday against Southern Pitt, then play against Williamsburg (Virginia) and Bill Bond (Florida North), both of which won state titles. The top two teams in each four-team bracket will advance to tournament play.

The 12 and under Major 60s won its own nail-biter to capture their state title, winning 2-1 in extra innings behind a near-perfect pitching performance by Max Duncan.

“He was almost untouchable in that one,” Holley said. “He was one pitch away from a perfect game before their player lined one to center field. He kept his composure after that and finished out strong. We came up in the bottom of the inning and got guys on first and second and Nolan Holley (Jason’s son” got a hit to right-center that scored James Price from second base. Really proud of all of them. As I told them after the game, it took every inning by every player at every position to put us in a position to win that game.”

Holley said that not much has changed in the preparation leading up to the regional tournament.

“We preach and teach consistency and fundamentals from Day 1 of this,” Holley said. “Every championship is won one game at a time. We’ll keep that approach the same, keep our same work ethic, and our kids have great chemistry. We’ll just buckle down on some minor details and get them thinking about situational baseball, which is easy to teach when you have the fundamentals. We want them to focus on the next pitch all the time, whether they are at the plate or in the field.”

Staton said his team is finding its rhythm at the perfect time. Despite losing 10-8 in the state championship game, Staton said the team had the bases loaded in the final inning before they were retired.

“We had our chances as the game was back-and-forth the whole way,” he said.

The nucleus of the 10 and under team played together on the 9 and under state championship team last year that also went on to finish as the runner-up at the Cal Ripken World Series in Florida.

“There are nine players out of our 11 who played last year and, eight of them have been playing All-Stars or travel ball since they were 8,” Staton said. “This is my first year with them managing All-Stars, but I’ve been coaching most of them in travel ball for a while.”

Staton said that his team will have their work cut out for them, as the eight-team Regional will feature six teams that won state championships.

“We are blessed with a lot of great pitchers,” he said. “We’re athletic and really fast. We hit the ball hard and we play defense really well. Our pitching is definitely what separates us, and most of these kids playing together for as long as they have really helped a lot, too. We just want to keep them in a rhythm, keep them loose. We’ve been tightening some things up on defense and putting them in different situations under some pressure. We’re looking forward to getting back on the field.”