Moore County All-Stars Eye State Tournament
Watching the Moore County Parks and Recreation 10-under all-stars win the District 1 championship in Richfield last week, one might have thought the team had been playing together for years.
That is partially correct — more than half the players had been teammates before in travel ball.
But according to coach Joey Brown, the Nationals just didn’t look like they were clicking in the practices leading up to the tournament, or the first few innings of their district opener against North Stanly American.
“They didn’t look good in practice to me and Mike (Windish, fellow coach),” Joey Brown said. “We were worried going into the tournament, and even in that first game, we just gave each other that look like, ‘What is going on?’”
That all changed in the fifth inning, when the team started to rally with the bats. The rally fell short, and the Nationals fell 7-6. But the team had reached a turning point.
“We just started to get along, cause we all like to play baseball, and we all knew that we all wanted to be there,” said team member Zach Pruitt. “We just felt like if we could work together, we could win.”
Win they did. The Nationals won their next five games, including a 16-4 blowout of North Stanly American, on their way to hoisting the district championship. It was the first time a Moore County Parks and Recreation baseball team won the district since 1998.
The Nationals’ next stop will be Hoke County Park in Raeford, where the Dixie Youth AAA State Tournament is being held. The 16-team, double elimination event kicks off Friday with opening ceremonies at 7 p.m. The tournament champion advances to the Dixie Youth AAA/Majors World Series in Gonzales, La.
Moore County plays Columbus County in its state tournament opener Saturday at 5 p.m. The other teams in Moore County’s eight-team bracket are Oxford, East Duplin, Southpark, Tryon, Dunn and Eden YMCA. The other bracket includes Leland, South Columbus, Mount Olive, West Robinson American, Cape Fear, Lumberton American, Reidsville and host Hoke County.
“It’s going to be a lot harder,” said Joey Brown. “We’re going to have to go in with pitching and be smart about our pitchers, not burn our pitchers up, and we’re going to have to hit the ball. If we all hit the ball, and our guys don’t make errors, then we have just as good a chance as anybody, because we have good pitching.”
In addition to the district tournament, team members, all of whom were 10 going into the spring except for one, have experience in tournament baseball, stemming both from travel ball and Moore County Parks and Recreation postseason tournaments.
Pruitt said winning the district reminded him of winning tournaments in travel ball, although Ryan Brown, who had the winning hit in the Nationals’ 4-3 win over Troy in the district final, said it was better.
“I just had more fun, and it was tougher teams,” he said.
One motivating factor for the players seems to be representing their home county and their hometowns.
“We’re representing everybody who plays baseball in Moore County, and it just makes us look like a better county in baseball,” said team member Hogan Windish.
Joey Brown said the coaching staff is emphasizing a good performance in the Nationals’ tournament opener against Columbus County, a team that went undefeated in its district tournament.
“It’s very important,” he said. “We can’t go in like that last tourney and lose the first game. We just feel like if we win that first game, the boys will have a lot of confidence.
“I don’t think it’s hit the kids yet what they’re playing for. I don’t even think they realize that they’re the district champs. Hopefully, they won’t realize it until we win the states.”
One note, the Nationals are signed up for the Statewide Athletic Committee West Regional Tournament being hosted by Moore County Parks and Recreation at Hillcrest Park in Carthage beginning July 16. In addition to the 10-under baseball tournament, Moore County is hosting SWAC West Regionals for 12-under baseball and 10-under softball.
If the Nationals have an early exit from the Dixie Youth state tournament, they’ll play in the SWAC regional.
“Hopefully, we won’t play in it,” said Joey Brown.
Moore County Parks and Recreation and Hillcrest Park are also playing host to the Dixie Youth Majors (12-under) District 1 Tournament this week.
Moore County fielded two teams in the event. The American team lost out on Monday while the National team was eliminated Tuesday.
More like this story