12-year-old All-Stars sweep tournament
By By Michael S. Hill
Gas up the bus and pack an extra pair of skivvies, cause Atmore's 12-year-old All-Star team is headed to Florence to play some more baseball.
Atmore's Miller McCaster slammed a game-winning solo homer in the bottom of the final inning of the state tournament championship game, giving Atmore the state title and punching their ticket for the Cal Ripken Baseball Southeast Regional Tournament July 28-August 2 in Florence.
Atmore will battle teams from Georgia, Florida, Alabama, North and South Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee in the regionals.
Atmore swept through the double-elimination state tournament undefeated at 3-0.
Atmore faced Colbert County in the tournament championship, a 5-4 game that went down to the wire.
Colbert County struck first, plating a run in the top of the first inning for a 1-0 lead.
Atmore fired back in the bottom half, striking for four runs to jump out to a quick 4-1 lead.
Darrius English, who was named the championship game's Most Valuable Player, led off the inning with a triple. Two strikeouts later, Chris Graham singled to bring English home. Jeffrey Taylor and Chris Andrews drew walks to load the bases for Brannon Sanspree. Sanspree then laced a bases-clearing triple to give Atmore the 4-1 advantage after one.
Colbert County drew close after notching two runs in the top of the second. Atmore's starting pitcher, Brandon Arnold, got loose for just a bit, walking two and hitting one batter. And although Arnold only gave up one hit in the inning, it scored two Colbert County runs to pull them to within 4-3.
After a scoreless third inning, a Colbert County RBI-triple tied the game at 4-4 in the top of the fourth. Both teams went scoreless in the fifth and sixth innings, sending the game to extra innings. When Colbert County failed to score in the top of the seventh, Atmore had a chance to close the game out in the bottom half.
With one out away in the bottom of the seventh, McCaster launched an 0-2 pitch over the fences, sending Atmore players and fans into hysteria and into the regionals.
Atmore played the minimum number of games in the state tournament. They drew a bye in the first round and played Attalla, who beat Blount County, in the second round.
Against Attalla, an 11-4 Atmore victory, Atmore raced to a 5-0 lead after two-and-a-half innings. English and Calvin Hartley each scored in the top of the first to push Atmore ahead 2-0. In the top of the third, Graham and Taylor singled and were brought home by Andrews' triple. Andrews scored off a Sanspree single, moving Atmore out to a 5-0 lead.
Attalla scored one in the bottom of the third, but gave it right back in the top of the fourth as English singled and then scored off two Attalla errors.
Atmore widened the gap in the top of the fifth, scoring three times with the benefit of just one hit. Taylor and Sanspree drew walks and Andrews was hit by a pitch. Later an English single helped score the runs to make it a 9-1 Atmore lead.
Attalla scored two in the bottom half, but Atmore also scored two in the top of the sixth to make it 11-3. One more Attalla run in the bottom of the sixth closed the scoring.
Atmore pitcher Arnold fanned eight Attalla batters.
In their second game of the tournament, Atmore held off a last-inning rally to squeeze by Gadsden 9-8.
Gadsden raced to a 3-0 lead after the first inning, but it was "Bombs away!" for Atmore over the next two innings.
Graham got the one-team homerun derby started in the bottom of the second with a solo moon shot that drew Atmore to within 3-1. In the bottom of the third, English and Hartley singled. Graham scored English on a single before Andrews blasted a 3-run dinger to put Atmore ahead 5-3. Sanspree drew a walk before Charles Dailey went yard, Atmore's third of the game, to push Atmore to a 7-3 advantage.
Atmore added another run in the bottom of the fifth as Andrews tripled and later scored on a Dailey single.
Down 8-3 heading into the top of the sixth and final inning, Gadsden provided a thrilling finish. Scratching and clawing, they put five runs on the board to tie it at 8-8 and give themselves a chance for an extra-inning comeback win.
But Hartley led off the bottom of the sixth with a walk, and two Gadsden errors allowed Arnold and Graham to reach base safely. And with the bases loaded, Taylor was hit by a pitch, forcing in the ninth and winning run.
Atmore will now head to Florence to duke it out with some talented, championship-caliber teams. If Atmore makes it through the regional tourney, they will advance to the Cal Ripken Baseball World Series, which is scheduled for August 12-19 in Mattoon, Ill.