Natchez squad takes red-hot pitching staff to state tourney

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 17, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Stack them up against fireballers, junkers or anything else the opposing team can put on the mound, and the Rebel League All-Stars won’t flinch.

The team has up to eight players who can pitch, and it usually settles on its top three or four to get the job done &045; nothing flashy, and no one really pops the mitt. But the staff really came together at last week’s district tournament to help earn a spot at the Minor League state tournament starting Saturday in Magee.

The Rebel League will face Magee at 8 p.m. in its opener.

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&uot;They’ve really come together up there at the district tournament,&uot; said Rebel head coach Tom Middleton, whose team beat McComb 1-0 for the title. &uot;If you’re not hitting, you’d better be pitching. And we’ve been able to get it. I’m anticipating all of them seeing action in the state tournament, and we’re trying to get all of them ready.&uot;

Left-hander Tyler Morrison had the biggest outing of the tournament by tossing a shutout against McComb in the final. McComb’s pitcher tossed a gem himself, but Morrison allowed three hits and struck out five.

The team went mostly with Morrison, Brandon Sanders and Hunter Hatcher on the mound to start during the two tournaments, but the depth doesn’t stop there. Christopher Perry threw quality innings in relief.

&uot;They were facing a pretty good pitcher against

McComb, so you can’t put that on the kids,&uot; Middleton said. &uot;Their guy did a good job pitching. I told (assistants) Gus (Perry) and Jeff (Upton) one or two runs were going to win this game and was really thinking more along the lines of two. You don’t see many 1-0 games (at this level).

&uot;Hunter didn’t throw a pitch. That’s nice to go to any time you needed it. We were really sitting pretty going into that last day.&uot;

Morrison has been perhaps the most steady of all as the left-hander threw the shutout and provided quality innings in relief in a 6-4 win over Summit in the team’s first game of the tournament.

&uot;They got nothing out of the infield,&uot; Middleton said. &uot;You can’t ask for much more than that. He gets good low balls and doesn’t get anything up. You’re usually going to hit ground balls. That’s his fort &045; if he doesn’t strike them out. You’re not going to see a lot of strikeouts out there, and he’ll get those routine ground balls.

&uot;And I’m going to have to brag &045; I don’t think there’s a better defensive team around. They’re good.&uot;

Sanders, meanwhile, is the hardest thrower in the bunch with a fastball that can get up to 55 mph. While McComb brought in a pitcher who threw plenty harder, it’s the movement on Sanders’ pitches that make him tough to hit.

Sanders threw a one-hitter in a 19-4 win over the Brookhaven Americans to earn a spot in the district title game.

&uot;When he’s throwing that hard, it’s got a lot of movement on it,&uot; Middleton said. &uot;That’s what makes him hard to hit. It really moves.&uot;

The solid staff, as it turns out, is partially responsible for a team that’s still blooming at the plate with the bats. Even though the Rebel League got just one run against McComb, it came by way of the manufactured run off a bunt when James Moffett laid one down for a single.

A walk and a hit batsman later, the bases were loaded for Daniel Guedon, whose grounder to third was fielded by the third baseman but dropped by the catcher when the throw came home.

&uot;We didn’t see any left-handers in district,&uot; Middleton said. &uot;Gus said he went over and watched the night we were off, and he said McComb brought in a left-hander for a couple of innings. Besides him, that was the only other left-hander in the tournament. They (competition) looked like they hadn’t seen a lot of left-handed pitching.&uot;

The bats will be critical at the state tournament, but many of the players on the Rebel League were here last year in the Natchez Americans’ trip to the coach pitch state tournament. Don’t expect any puzzling looks when a left-hander comes to the mound, either.

&uot;I think we’ll see one or two really dominant pitchers,&uot; Middleton said. &uot;Other than that, I look to see what we’ve been seeing. When we went to state last year in coach pitch, the competition up there wasn’t any tougher than what we saw in district. The good thing about this team is it’s not really loaded with one player at each position. We’re balanced, and it’s just a luxury.&uot;