Natchez 11s open state tour at Duncan Park

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 5, 2005

This is one of those groups. One of those collections of talent that folks noticed way back, had premonitions that something special could come out of this group of boys and told everyone to keep an eye on.

Not bad for a bunch of 11-year-olds, huh?

Well, maybe. They’re only 11 years old, for pete’s sake, and they haven’t played an official All-Star tournament game.

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That’s the biggest worry of the Natchez 11-year-old All-Stars, who open the state tournament today at Duncan Park and hope to be still playing by the end of next week.

Natchez faces Laurel at 8 p.m. at Carroll-Jones Field.

&uot;I’m pumped,&uot; said Christopher Perry, now in his fifth year of All-Stars in as many years playing Dixie Youth baseball. &uot;Everybody has got a good attitude on this team. No bad attitudes. We have some great coaches, and we’ve got good people in the stands pulling for us. I hope we win it all. We want to make it to the championship.&uot;

Perry has been part of deep runs in summers past as this age group has success under its belt. The Rebel League All-Stars got to the state championship in 2003 before losing to Pascagoula, and the summer prior the Natchez Americans won the district championship to advance to the state coach-pitch tournament.

The last three seasons came with the leagues divided into two All-Star teams, but now with the Major League only fielding one team, the best 11-year-olds in Natchez Dixie Youth can play on a team together.

&uot;Our deal is if they come out ready, I think we’ll have a real strong chance,&uot; Natchez assistant Chris Dunaway said. &uot;When you get a bunch of strong players together, they’ve got to play. The thing that worries me is (everyone) had to play through sub-district and district. We’ve played scrimmage games. We haven’t had to face than when it’s on the line. We’ll have to wait and see how they respond.&uot;

These boys, coaches argue, know what it’s like to play All-Stars and know what playing in a big-game atmosphere is all about. Perry is one of three players off that Rebel League team from two summers ago &045; Jamon Gray and Avery Middleton are the other two &045; while others were on the Confederate League All-Stars that year and played All-Stars last summer.

The All-Stars picked up practice games against solid competition, including McComb, the Natchez Indians tournament team and the 11- and 12-year-old Vidalia All-Stars.

&uot;We played McComb the other night and got out of the gate slow but ended up playing well,&uot; Natchez head coach Boo Brumfield said. &uot;It was a little awakening there (after winning the first game). It’s hard to keep their attention (over the break). That’s the hardest part, I’d say. Hopefully by 8 o’clock they’ll be ready to rock and roll.&uot;

The biggest reason the coaches have for relaxing heading into the tournament is what got this group to the finals two seasons ago &045; the power at the plate. Perry came through with a clutch home run in a win over Columbia to catapult the Natchez team into the championship, but now there are others who can poke it out as the team finished with 23 home runs during the season.

The pitching and defense needs to just fall in line for things to work out well in the tournament.

&uot;We played five practice games and lost two, so that wasn’t too bad,&uot; Perry said. &uot;Everybody can hit the ball. I hit two out (this season), and Daniel Dunaway hit two out. (Two summers ago) was a blast. We had a lot of people who could hit. We kind of got down on ourselves (in the final) the first couple of innings, and that’s kind of lost it for us.&uot;

The pitching will have to come through in situations like this, and the Natchez team can turn to a number of pitchers to get the job done. Coaches will likely go with Scott Turner to start today as the left-hander who rung up 64 mph on the radar gun.

Dunaway, Colin Hammons, Middleton, Perry and Gray can also come in and pitch.

&uot;If they play to their potential, we’ll be all right,&uot; Brumfield said. &uot;If our pitchers come out and throw strikes like they can, we’ll be all right. Our hitting will take care of itself. I really believe if they come out and throw strikes, we’ll be all right. We’re pretty deep in defensive players, too.&uot;

The biggest test may not come for at least another round if the All-Stars can get past Laurel in that first game. Others in the tournament include Magee, McComb, Brookhaven and Petal as other leagues in the state are in the fledgling stages of fielding 11-year-old and 12-year-old All-Star rosters.

Magee’s team made the Minor League World Series last summer as 10-year-olds.

&uot;I’ve had three kids complain of sore arms &045; that’s my biggest worry,&uot; Brumfield said. &uot;Daniel, Colin and Christopher &045; we haven’t been really letting them throw a lot. Christopher didn’t last too long against McComb. Other than that, I feel real confident with the rest of them.&uot;

That’s because some of them have been here before. At least Gray remembers what it was like.

&uot;We were scared,&uot; Gray said. &uot;Since we’re hosting it (we’re pumped). It’s just a regular ball game.&uot;