Braves celebrate, move on

Published 12:01 am Friday, July 22, 2011

Eric Shelton | The Natchez Democrat — The Braves’ Caleb Smith tries to tag Brady Keating during the Advance Sports Braves’ baseball practice Wednesday afternoon at the Vidalia baseball fields.

Vidalia — When the Advance Sports Braves were the first team called out on the field in front of approximately 2,000 cheering fans at the opening ceremony of the USSSA World Series baseball tournament in Sulphur, La., head coach Shaun McDonald said it was the perfect culmination of a very successful season for his team.

The Braves 8 and under USSSA coaches pitch team finished its season with an overall record of 24-21 and 17-10 in Class 8U-AA, which earned them the No. 3 ranking in the coaches’ poll in Louisiana, McDonald said. They finished ranked 23rd nationally among more than 650 teams in the USSSA points rankings, McDonald said.

The Braves capped off their season with a solid showing in the World Series. The team went 4-2 in the 19-team tournament.

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Triston Hayles, who homered three times, led the Braves offensively in the tournament. Peyton Fort, who homered twice and Rhet McDonald, who homered once and had two three-hit games were also offensive standouts.

“They played awesome for us,” McDonald said. “They really came together and grew up learning how to play as teammates.”

The team started its season in September, but really started playing well earlier this year, McDonald said.

“We played a few tournaments starting in September of last year in fall ball,” McDonald said. “Then we started back in February, in spring ball, and once we kicked off in February they took off.”

The team really hit its stride in May. They won the King of the Hill tournament in Gonzalez, La., in May, and followed that with a win in the Rough Cut Diamond Challenge in Baton Rouge in June.

McDonald said his team’s competitive nature helped it succeed this season.

“They are fiery, they get upset if they don’t do good,” he said. “When they do good, it’s a completely different environment.”

Eight-year-old Vincent Knight Jr. said his favorite part of being a Brave is the success they see on the field.

“(I like playing with the Braves) because they are a good team,” Knight said.

The Braves did not get a chance to celebrate their good season long, however. They are already back on the practice field and preparing for a new age division and a new style of play.

“We’re working on moving up to 9-year-old kid pitch,” McDonald said. “The world series ended our coach pitch.”

McDonald said the team is working on pitching, catching, base running and live hitting at practice to get used to playing with real pitchers. They will play their first players-pitch game July 29 in Vicksburg.

“(Players pitch) is good because we have been pitching for a year,” he said. “It’s something we’ve been working on for a while getting ready.

“I think we’ll actually improve because we have eight kids that can pitch. We have an advantage there over most teams, because we’ve been working on it since last August.”

McDonald said his team’s main strength in coaches pitch was its offense, and he hopes that success will carry over to the next level.

“We’ve been doing live hitting to get them used to a little bit more speed,” he said.

McDonald said about half the team has been together since the team was formed as the Vidalia Vikings three years ago, and the other players joined from Natchez and Meadville to become the Braves.

Eight-year-old Sam Mosby said he joined the team over a year ago.

“I like playing (USSSA) because you get to travel everywhere and go to tournaments,” Mosby said.

Mosby said he hopes to play for Trinity’s high school team one day.

McDonald said the future is bright for many of his players, and USSSA gives them the opportunity to prepare for higher levels of play.

“I just enjoy watching them grow and improve as a team,” he said. “I’m looking forward to going up with them, and continue to work with them, and maybe watch a lot of these guys play high school and college ball.

“USSSA is very competitive, and you play a lot of games. Instead of (playing) 10 to 12 games a year, for example, we played 45 games this year. Putting kids on the field, playing that many different teams from different areas and different levels of talent is huge.”

McDonald said the July 29 tournament in Vicksburg will kick off the team’s fall season, and they are looking to host a tournament in Vidalia this season.

The Advance Sports Braves are: Hayles, Brett Walsworth, Fort, Rhet McDonald, Matthew Parnham, Caleb Smith, Mosby, Knight Jr., Jones Richardson, Brady Keating and Chase Kaiser.

They are coached by Shaun McDonald, Vincent Knight Sr., Hayden Kaiser and Paul Hayles.