Natchez 13s using pitching, defense in quest for state title

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 5, 2005

NATCHEZ &045; There was a time when this group of Natchez 13-year-old All-Stars didn’t need the pitching, defense or baserunning to win in the summer.

They were like the New York Yankees &045; they used the long ball.

But thanks to a new age group and fences becoming a little harder to see in Dixie Boys than the 180 feet in Dixie Youth, the team has changed its ways a bit &045; pitching and defense was huge in its district championship last week along with just enough timely hitting sprinkled in.

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That, too, suits them fine heading into the state tournament Saturday at Greenville.

&uot;I think we’re going to do great with our pitching,&uot; said hurler Cole Mann, who will likely get the start in the opening game against Petal. &uot;We have excellent pitching and excellent defense. The only thing we need is for our bats to come alive. And we need some smart baserunning.&uot;

Hitting was the last of the team’s worries last summer when as 12-year-olds as they put out six in one game in the district tournament against Brookhaven. But that run ended at the district championship with a loss in the best-of-three series to McComb when they just couldn’t hit outscore the opposition.

This summer &045; with only two new players &045; the result has been different. But head coach Mike Lazarus hopes the tide will turn back around.

&uot;Pitching and defense &045; that’s what won it,&uot; Lazarus said. &uot;We didn’t hit the ball over there real well, but we’re hitting the ball real well in practice. We’ll see if it works. I was surprised, but it worked out. Guys stepped up. (Pitchers) were hitting their spots.&uot;

The pitching of Cole Mann, Colin Dollar and Aaron White helped lead the way with wins over Summit and Brookhaven to claim the championship. The All-Stars went to bunting to create runs in both games &045; a steal of home plate never hurts regardless of level &045; and the team went back to work on bunting Thursday just in case.

But something, Lazarus feels, is going to crack with the bats at the plate.

&uot;We’ve done nothing but hit, hit, hit,&uot; he said. &uot;The bats have come around. Last year we relied on the bats. So far it’s been all pitching and defense. I don’t think we had many errors until the last inning of that last game, but they were already celebrating.&uot;

Said Caleb Johnson: &uot;Our bats are going to come around.&uot;

Thursday’s workout prior to a post-district championship pizza party was spent working on the fundamentals of getting a good bunt down. At this level, a solid bunt could change a game as it did in the district tournament.

All it takes is one throwing error with a runner on first base, and it’s an instant rally.

&uot;We bunted a lot in district &045; more than we wanted to,&uot; Lazarus said. &uot;If it wasn’t for stealing home, we wouldn’t have come out so good because the bats were cold in district. We did a lot of things (since then), but we worked a lot on hitting. After district, we were worried that was our weakness and that we’re not hitting like we should. We’ve got a lot of boys now with some confidence at the plate.&uot;

Said Mann: &uot;We haven’t been bunting a lot, but that’s what’s going to carry us through. There are going to be a lot of one- and two-run ball games, and we’ve been working on pick-off moves and stuff like that.&uot;

That could very well be a key in the first game right off the bat Saturday against Petal, a game that could draw everyone’s attention at the tournament. Last year this group gave McComb fits before McComb rolled to a state championship without allowing a run, one that ended with the coach remarking how no one played his team as tough as Natchez did.

Then there’s Petal, the representative from the always-tough Hattiesburg/Pine Belt area.

&uot;It’s us and Petal,&uot; Lazarus said. &uot;We might as well get it over with. They beat Hattiesburg, and Hattiesburg is supposed to be good. That’s what bothers me. The McComb coach said Hattiesburg will be the best team over there, and come to find out Petal beat them. We’ll find out Saturday morning.&uot;