Natchez All-Stars hope to repeat as state champions

Published 12:45 am Sunday, June 15, 2008

NATCHEZ — Nestled among giant trees at the back of Duncan Park on Ballew-Bowlin Field, Natchez has a team preparing for a repeat run as state champions.

Last season the then 8-year-old Natchez All-Stars coach pitch team took first place honors in the state.

This year, the now 9-year-old kid-pitch club — comprised mostly of players from a year ago — are looking to show last year was no fluke.

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Commissioner Porky Smith said the team has a chance at bringing home another state title, but they won’t have a cakewalk.

“They’ve got the talent to do it,” Smith said. “With this age group, it all comes down to the man on the hill.”

One big difference between last year’s championship team and this team is the fact the players now have to pitch, which as Smith and head coach Gary Farmer have said, is where you win and lose ballgames.

“Our pitchers are going to have to step up because we don’t have any overpowering pitchers — we throw strikes,” Farmer said. “There are a lot of 9-year-olds somewhere in the state that’ll throw in the mid 50s. We’ve got about a 49-48 mile-an-hour thrower, but nothing in the 50s.

“You get in the 50s and that’s an overpowering 9-year-old.”

Arguably one of the biggest assets for the Natchez All-Stars is Craig Bradley.

The versatile ballplayer can play pitcher or shortstop — where Farmer said he’s among the best in the state at his age.

Although he’s considered an elite shortstop by Farmer and Smith, he may be the All-Stars’ greatest asset on the mound too.

“He locates pitches really well,” Farmer said. “He pitches in the high 40s and might be able to bust 50 every once in a while. He’s a smart pitcher, he’s not going to throw something to hit with an 0-2 count, he’s going to throw you something in the dirt, and that’s smart for a 9-year-old.

“He’s a heck of a ballplayer.”

One big addition to the team this year was catcher Zack Flattmann.

From the press box, Smith couldn’t help but get excited over the defensive plays of Flattmann during the All-Stars’ 18-2 victory over Pine Hill’s All-Stars Saturday afternoon.

“I want to be his agent,” Smith joked at one point.

Farmer also gives Flattmann praise for his play behind the plate.

“Flattmann was a big addition,” Farmer said. “He’s a great defensive catcher and we’re glad to have him.”

As with any coach, Farmer downplayed the chances of his team earning another state championship, but was optimistic on how the team might fare down the stretch.

“I think they’ll gel and go a long way again this year,” Farmer said. “Hopefully we’ll go all the way to state.

“A repeat, that’d be sweet, but I don’t know.”

The All-Stars will begin their trek June 23 in Gloster at 6 p.m.