Beginning Thursday night, the busiest weekend of the year for the youth baseball and softball teams in Marshall County will commence.
The 10-year-old boys' Cal Ripken tournament opens at the Marshall County Little League on July 11th.
The Babe Ruth League will host two tournaments in Lewisburg, beginning Thursday night with the 15-year-olds hosting the district tournament at the Jonathon D. Hollingsworth Memorial Park.
The senior Babe Ruth League Marshall County Dusters host the state tournament at Joe George Field, beginning Friday night at 8 p.m. versus Dresden and the tournament will run through Tuesday.
Other Little League teams will be playing in Bristol, Morristown, Madison, Franklin, and in Wilson, N.C.
The 14-year-old Babe Ruth team will play in Lawrenceburg and the thirteens will begin their district tournament in Columbia.
The 7-8 year old girls and the 10 and under girls both captured Cal Ripken state titles in Union City over the weekend and move on to the Babe Ruth southeast region tournament play in Wilson, N.C.
Practice has been plentiful, hot, and hard for many other county squads, such as the 13 and 14-year-old Babe Ruth All-Stars who have been scrimmaging the last two weeks.
Mike Mills, manager of the 14-year-old All-Stars said after Sunday afternoon's scrimmage, "We like doing it this way because it gives us a great opportunity to work on our defense and the players get to face live hitting."
During the scrimmage, pitchers from each squad threw to their own batters to get them used to live pitching in their own age group.
Mills and assistant coaches Scot Vernon and Danny Hargrove like their chances with the talented squad and feel the team goes eight or nine arms deep in the pitching staff. "We are absolutely that deep," said Mills. "The depth may not come into play in the district tournament, but might very well be the difference if we advance to state."
Mills' squad opens up play Thursday in Lawrenceburg versus the defending state champion Giles County team and said, "That is the kind of way we wanted it. We feel like they (Giles County) are the best of the other teams and we owe them one from last year."
Ryan Daughrity, one of the aces of the staff, has been hurt all season and is just rounding back into form, but is still questionable for duty on the mound.
Other hurlers Mills is counting on are Zack Brewer, J.B. Reese, Cody Vernon, Joe Stocstill, Marcus Green, and Chris Chapman. They are all versatile players who can swing the bat along with Aaron Thomason, Paten Pruitt, Dillon Bean, Brandon Bush, and Cody Bradford.
The 13-year-old squad won the Sunday scrimmage 10-8 and is loaded with young talent. Tony Kirby will manage the team and assisting will be Rex Richardson, Mike Bailey, and longtime Babe Ruth coach Billy Hardison, who guided a squad to the 1985 state title.
"I really have no way of knowing how we match up, but I think we are really good and I like our chances." Kirby said Sunday.
"Hitting and defense will be our strengths," said Kirby. "We also go eight or nine deep into the pitching rotation. These kids know that they will only pitch two or three innings and someone else will come in."
"We have great chemistry too; they all get along and are eager to get down to business."
Kirby's squad has the Babe Ruth regular season leading hitter in Zack Horvath, who batted over .600 for the season and showed no signs of cooling off on Sunday, going 3-4 from the dish. "He can really hit a baseball," said the manager.
Kirby's deep pitching staff includes Dylan McKnight, Zack Kirby, Jalen Jones, Horvath, side-winding Hayden Bailey, and Jesse Kilpatrick. These hurlers are all good hitters as well and will contribute to the overall tough batting lineup.
Ryan Richardson swings a good stick and plays first base, Cody Blackburn is a versatile solid player, as are Dakota Fagan, Ryan McDaniel, and Cameron Bowers.
The gritty Matt Sharp is injured and will hopefully rejoin the squad for the southeast region.
"I expect this team to be good, I expect nothing less," said the confident manager.
"They have all had solid coaching for years; Mike (Mills) and Rex (Richardson) have carried these boys around for five or six years and have prepared them well."