News Column

Little League State Baseball: Ready to run

July 17, 2014

By Aaron Snyder, The Daily Independent, Ashland, Ky.

July 17--ASHLAND -- Morehead 11- and 12-year-old All-Star baseball manager Toby Gardner collectively likened his team to a racehorse.

"Once they get in the stall, they're ready to get in the spotlight," Gardner said.

They're not alone, apparently.

Other skippers expressed similar sentiments about their teams as they embark on journeys to different parts of the Bluegrass for the Little League state tournaments.

Ashland American 9-10s, Russell Flatwoods 10-11s and Morehead will convene in Bowling Green on Friday night for an opening ceremony before beginning pool play on Saturday. Paintsville also has representation in the 10-11 and 11-12 groups.

The Ashland National Junior Leaguers will take part in a four-team double-elimination event in Richmond. Their first pitch is slated for 9 a.m. at Caudill Middle School on Saturday.

Ashland American is also accustomed to bursting out of the gates, banking on a number of team strengths. Above all, though, is perhaps the way they burn up the basepaths.

"Our philosophy is, put the ball in play, hustle and make the other team beat you," McDowell said. "We want to put as much pressure on the other team as we can with our speed ... We had a suicide squeeze (in the District 6 title game against Fleming County), and we had a kid score from second base."

Exquisite pitching, led by Johnny Stevens and Ryan Adkins, also helped propel Ashland American to a Saturday date against Bowling Green East at 5 p.m., central time, at Ephram White Park. Others in its pool are Hazard, Perry and North Oldham. If the local All-Stars break out of the pool, they'll compete in the semifinal round on Tuesday.

Ashland's pitching rotation reaches so deep that McDowell may manage as he might if he was in the Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

"We have five or six kids who could start any game, and they all throw equally hard," McDowell said. "We'll give teams several different looks."

Both Russell-Flatwoods 10-11s and Morehead 11-12s will be gunning for a Tuesday ticket. All the championship games are scheduled for Wednesday.

Gardner also possesses a stable of arms -- Corey Binion, Devin Stevens, Andrew Hankinson and Bradley Gardner are a few.

"We've got several pitchers who need just one run to win a ball game," Gardner said.

Gardner has kept his team hopping during a full two weeks of practice in preparation for their chance to shine.

"We probably take anywhere from 150 to 200 cuts a day, and shag 75 fly balls and field 75 ground balls a day," Gardner said. "We're not just standing around out there ... And our kids have surprisingly stayed very focused -- no bickering, no arguing back and forth."

Gardner credited assistant coaches J.R. Stevens and Rick Eastham for helping boost the bunch an extra step each year they've been together. As 10-year-olds, Morehead was the Area 1 runner-up. Last season, the 11s were district runners-up.

On Saturday, the District 6 champions will take on Paintsville at 5 p.m. Others in their pool include Warren County South and Ohio County.

Russell takes on Muhlenberg County on Saturday at 3 p.m. Others in its pool are Nelson County and Russell County.

Russell flexed its collective muscle as it poured 20 runs on Catlettsburg in the District 6 championship game on July 2. Both Nathan Conley and Issac Jenkins went yard.

Said Peterman then: "We've always been a good-hitting team. This year is our best so far."

The Ashland National Junior League All-Stars consist of 13- and 14-year-olds.

Dubbed the "comeback kids" by manager Tom Lowe, Ashland clawed back from a late deficit to oust Greenup County in the District 6 title contest.

Lowe said Tanner Cassady is the latest to join the pitching staff, which contains eight options.

Most of the games in the tournament will be played at Madison Central High School.

Each of the managers thanked their respective communities for its efforts in helping raise funds for each team's travel expenses.

AARON SNYDER can be reached at or (606) 326-2664. Follow @DindependentQB on Twitter.


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Source: Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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