Marshall County all-stars hoping for historic run
When the 15-year old Marshall County all-stars man their positions on the diamond Saturday afternoon on the Jonathan D. Hollingsworth Field in Lewisburg for the Babe Ruth State Tournament they will be chasing history.
The winner of the three-team event will automatically qualify for the Babe Ruth World Series at Lawrenceburg on August 10.
No Marshall County all-star team has ever played in a Babe Ruth World Series.
Lawrenceburg and Martin are the only two Tennessee Babe Ruth Leagues to host a World Series in any division and no team from the Volunteer State has won the event since 1996 when the Nashville 16-18 year old all-stars claimed the title at Dare County, NC.
The Lawrenceburg Babe Ruth League, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary, hosted the 16-18 year old World Series in 1978 and 1981 and did not host again until 34 years later in 2015 when the hosts finished in second place in a 13-15 year old event.
Martin hosted the 12-year old World Series in 2008.
The first Babe Ruth World Series was played in 1952 when Stamford, CT beat Morristown, NJ at the home of the Babe Ruth League in Hamilton, NJ.
The Marshall County all-stars have been getting ready for two weeks under the tutelage of longtime coach and Marshall County Babe Ruth League Hall of Famer Mike Mills with Greg and Hunter Bradford serving as Mills’ assistants.
“We have a real good group, we are pretty experienced and we are lucky enough that most of the kids have played the positions we are practicing at,” Mills said. “I expect two really good teams to come down here, but I feel like we are in pretty good shape, we are ready to go and I think we should be able to take care of it.”
Marshall County has a deep pitching staff, led by league MVP Preston Shelton (3-0), who posted an undefeated mark on the mound this season.
Walker Whaley (4-0) and Austin Grubbs are also potential starting pitchers with Matthew McCormick, Zach Graves, Spence Oliver, and Colton Barber available for relief duty.
“We have about three that are good starting pitchers and we have about six more that can throw,” Mills said. “I’ve never had this many pitchers that I had no fear of putting in a ballgame before.”
Defense should be a strongpoint for the squad and Mills reiterated his comment on experience helping in that department.
Offensively, the all-stars are capable of putting up some big runs with league batting award winner Whaley leading the way as he drove in 11 runs and posted a hefty .607 batting average in the regular season.
Shelton (.562, 10RBI), Grubbs (.522, 12RBI), Oliver (.500, 6RBI), Barber (.429), Graves (.423), McCormick (.400, 8RBI), Jake Singleton (.345, 10RBI), Blake Aldridge (.286), and Matthew Fuller (8RBI) should provide plenty of offensive firepower for the squad that will vie for the Eastern Division state title.
“I feel like our pitching is good enough to get the job done and we can play good defense,” Mills said. “But the key to the whole thing is getting up there and hitting the baseball.”
“This group is all good at putting the bat on the ball and we have about four or five kids that are deep threats and put the ball out of here and that could be key in close ballgames.”
On Wednesday, Mills got some help from longtime friend Mike “Monk” Reese as the Marshall County High School manager and decades long Babe Ruth 16-18 year old Dusters coach brought some of his high school and Dusters squad over for a scrimmage with the all-stars.
“I’ll tell you what, this is big for us,” Mills said. “We appreciate Monk doing it because we haven’t had any live work since the end of the season.”
“We needed it bad, it’s not the same, and we needed a little bit of live action to see what we needed to work on in these last few days.”
Reese was preparing his team for a wooden bat tournament this weekend and it also gave his team a chance to get some work in after not playing during the high school dead period.
“I’m glad to work with Mike, he has been around Babe Ruth for a longtime, so I’m tickled to death to help him out,” Reese said.
Reese is also well aware of what a win in the state tournament would mean for the league and the community, saying, “We have come close a couple times getting to the finals in the Southeast Region and we all know what a tough chore that is when you have to travel.”
“Skipping that would be huge for this team and playing at home in the state and basically playing at home in the World Series at Lawrenceburg should be a big incentive for them to play hard this weekend,” Reese added.
Opening ceremonies are scheduled for 6 p.m. tonight with Lebanon and Bellevue kicking off tournament play after.
Marshall County will play the winner at 5 p.m. Saturday night in the double elimination event that will conclude on Sunday.
“Having the home crowd here is huge,” Mills said. “We have been lucky enough to have a pretty big crowd in here and when you have everybody over there making a little racket, it pumps everybody up.”