Blue Claws take 9U Title
The Jacksonville Beach Blue Claws proved to be the class of the Cal Ripken 9U Southeast Region Tournament at the Richard Cashion Youth Complex in Lewisburg, claiming their second consecutive Southeast Region title with an 18-9 triumph over the Jupiter, Fla., All-Stars.
The Blue Claws swept through pool play at 4-0 before taking out Monrovia, Ala., 10-3 in the semifinals.
Jacksonville outscored their opponents 91-29 in the tournament and was carried by slugger Brycen "Tater" Padgett who smashed an incredible nine home runs, had 27 RBIs, and batted .680 over the four-day period.
In an out-of-this-world performance in the championship game win over Jupiter, Padgett drilled three long-distance home runs and drove in 11 runs in a 4-for-5 performance at the plate.
Jupiter earned a berth in the finals, holding on with a hard- earned 5-4 win over Tillman's Corner, Ala., in the other semifinal game.
The all-Sunshine State battle between Jacksonville and Jupiter took place on Mike Tatum Field and was a shoot-out from the beginning.
The Blue Claws pushed across two first- inning runs on an RBI single by Padgett that scored Tyler Callihan and another RBI single by Dalton Rupinta that plated Austin Knight.
Jupiter, unfazed, sent 14 batters to the plate in the home half of the inning, scoring four times on base hits by Matt Lopes, Bryan Zimmer, Ryan Hill, Sean Maletzke, and Brett Steel and was helped by some uncharacteristic defensive lapses by Jacksonville, who committed four errors in the frame.
The Blue Claws came right back, matching Jupiter's four-run inning with four of their own in the second. Starting pitcher Easton Flowers, who pitched great the entire tournament for the Blue Claws, started the rally, beating out a one-out infield single.
Alex Parcell was hit by a pitch and Callihan singled to right to load the bases for Knight, who slashed a bases- clearing triple into the right-field gap. Padgett knocked in the fourth run in the inning with a fielder's choice.
Jupiter would not fade away, taking a 7-6 lead with three runs in the bottom of the second as Dakota Galliard led off with a single to right.
After an outfield pop-out, Maletzke doubled to right, putting runners at second and third for Steel, who bounced an infield single that scored Galliard from third.
Another miscue by Jacksonville allowed two more runs to come across and a wild pitch scored Maletzke with the go-ahead run.
Maletzke held Jacksonville scoreless in the top of the third.
Jupiter threatened in the bottom of the inning, getting runners on second and third with two outs when Blue Claw manager Palmer Knight brought in Padgett to pitch.
Padgett put out the fire, striking out Maletzke on a nasty breaking ball to end the threat.
The Blue Claws busted the game open in the fourth, scoring six runs with the big blows coming on a three-run shot, deep over the center-field fence by Padgett and a three-run triple later in the inning by Parcell, making it a 12-7 ballgame.
Padgett kept Jupiter off the scoreboard in the bottom of the inning on the mound.
In the fifth, Knight led off with a single to center and trotted home on a long tater-tot by Padgett over the left field fence, making it 14-7.
Hill walked, leading off the bottom of the fifth for Jupiter before Padgett whiffed two out of the next three batters, sending the game to the last inning.
Parcell was hit by a pitch with one out, Callihan singled to right, and Knight singled to left, loading the sacks for Tater.
Padgett took a ball up and in and then belted his third homerun of the ballgame, deep over the center field fence for a grand slam that sealed Jupiter's fate, making it 18-7.
Jupiter scored twice in the bottom of the sixth, but it was not nearly enough as Palmer's squad took the title back to Jacksonville for the second year in a row.
"The difference this year was we had to pitch," said Palmer after the game. "This was mostly the same group of kids as last year and they just refused to lose, continued to work, and continued to fight for each other to the end."
Asked about the unbelievable offensive performance from Padgett throughout the tournament, Palmer smiled and said, "He is a special child and has come a long way in the last year. Tater has continued to work hard and has continued to improve. He is one guy on a team of 11, although he can carry us from the middle of the order. All 11 of these kids came to play."
Tournament Director Mike Tatum commented about Marshall County hosting the tournament, saying, "The entire tournament went good for us and obviously was good for the city of Lewisburg. We could not have pulled this off without all the people who worked so hard during the week and all of our sponsors. The tournament was a success financially and on the field."
Tatum added, "Cal Ripken is good for Marshall County and is good for Lewisburg. In Little League, we don't have the opportunity to do a tournament like this."
Nelda Pritchard, State Commissioner of Cal Ripken Baseball, was on hand the entire week and said after the tournament, "The tournament went really well and we are very pleased with the hosts. Marshall County did a superb job and made everyone feel comfortable."
Asked if there was a chance to host another tournament next year, Pritchard responded, "Sure, if they put in a request. This is definitely a place we would want to come back to. There are about eight to 10 requests a year in each division and we look at each one."
"The competition on the field was excellent," said Pritchard. "I think a lot of people are surprised by the competition until they actually experience it. Cal Ripken is very competitive and it is a great caliber of baseball."
The host team Marshall County did not fare very well, going 0-4 and were outscored 57-14.
Marshall County manager Brian Eady said after his team's elimination on Saturday, "It was great playing all these teams. We have not seen this kind of competition all year. Our players had fun and had a great experience. We just did not hit like we did at district or state and there was a lot better pitching here than we have seen.
"We have had a wonderful time hosting the tournament and I would like to thank all of my coaches and the parents who have worked so hard. They have all been wonderful throughout."
For complete results of all the games, go to brlseregion.com and click on Regional Tournament Brackets for the 9U results.