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Rally lifts Troup American to championship

By Kevin Eckleberry

kevin.eckleberry@lagrangenews.com

MANCHESTER – They kept fighting.

The situation was looking grim for the Troup American all-stars after they fell behind by seven runs in the fourth inning of Tuesday’s championship game against Thomaston in the Dixie Youth Baseball 9-10-year-old district tournament.

After his team gave up eight runs in the top of the fourth inning, though, Troup American head coach Rusty Taylor gathered his players together and offered some encouraging words, letting them know the game was a long way from over.

“I told them we’ve already scored eight runs in an inning in this tournament,” Taylor said. “This is nothing. We can do this. We’re fine.”

He was right.

Troup American stormed back to take the lead, and it held on for a 13-11 victory to capture the championship with a 5-0 record.

Troup American knew it was going to the state tournament regardless of what happened on Tuesday, but nobody was thinking about second place.

“I was glad we won the championship,” Taylor said. “We knew we were going to state, but I didn’t let that get in their heads. We wanted to win the championship. I told them we’ve got to finish this thing.”

The game ended when first baseman Cooper Stephens made a remarkable leaping catch for the third out in the top of the sixth inning.

Stephens was one of the stars for Troup American.

In addition to his outstanding, game-ending defensive gem, Stephens also had a two-out, two-run single that got Troup back within two in the bottom of the fourth.

Stephens didn’t play first base during the Troup County Parks and Recreation Commission season during the spring, but he looked right at home at that position on Tuesday.

With two outs, a Thomaston hitter hammered the ball to the right side of the infield for what appeared to be a sure hit, but Stephens Leaped in the air and made the catch.

“He never plays (first),” Taylor said. “He’s been begging me to play first, so I said OK. I’ve got so much confidence in him. I know he can play anywhere. I knew he could handle it.”

After the catch, Stephens hurdled into the air and celebrated the victory with his teammates and coaches.

Luke Vael, who entered the game with a man on and one out in the top of the fifth, was the winning pitcher after throwing 1 2/3 scoreless innings.

Rob Skinner started for Troup American and pitched into the fourth inning before Stephens went to the mound.

Troup American had a 4-3 lead through three innings, but Thomaston exploded for eight runs in the top of the fourth to build a seemingly comfortable 11-4 lead.

An unfazed Troup American team got right back into the game with five runs in the bottom of the fourth, and all of the runs were scored with two outs.

Tolan Bailey began the rally with a one-out walk, and after a Vael fielder’s choice and an infield single by Kaden Carlisle, Troup American had the bases loaded.

Up to the plate stepped Hunter Garrett, and he delivered a two-run single to get Troup American closer.

Dalton Colquett walked and Landon Alsbrook singled, and Thomaston’s coach elected to intentionally walk Skinner to load the bases for Stephens.

That move backfired when Stephens ripped the ball into the outfield for a two-run single, and Thomaston’s lead was down to 11-9.

Thomaston was held scoreless in the top of the fifth, and Troup American went back to work in the bottom of the inning.

Luke Taylor led off the inning with a walk, and after a Brandon Bennett fielder’s choice, Bailey’s base hit put the tying runs on base.

After a Vael walk loaded the bases, Bennett scored on a wild pitch, and Troup was within one, and there were men on second and third.

Carlisle then came through with an RBI single, and the game was deadlocked at 11-11.

The go-ahead run came home moments later when Vael scored on a wild pitch, and Colquett’s RBI groundout pushed the lead to 13-11.

Thanks to some nifty defense in the bottom of the sixth, that two-run cushion was enough.

After Vael got a pop-out for the first out of the inning, Carlisle fielded a slow roller at third base and threw a strike to first base for the second out.

“Kaden’s clutch,” Taylor said. “All these guys are so clutch on the infield.”

Stephens then made his game-ending catch, and it was celebration time.

While all 12 players on the roster contributed to the tournament win, Taylor also said assistant coaches Rob Vael and Zach Taylor played a critical role.

Vael is a former professional baseball player whose experience was invaluable, and Zach Taylor had a myriad of responsibilities.

“He keeps up with so much for me so I can coach,” said Rusty Taylor, Zach’s father. “He keeps up with the pitch counts, all the substitutions. He keeps up with the other team’s pitch count, and he’s keeping the dugout organized. He keeps it to where I can just coach. He does it all.”

Next up for Troup American will be the state tournament that will be held in Eaton beginning on July 7.

TEAM MEMBERS: Landon Alsobrook, Rob Skinner, Cooper Stephens, Noah Whaley, Luke Taylor, Brandon Bennett, Tolan Bailey, Luke Vael, Kaden Carlisle, Hunter Garrett, Jackson Hester and Dalton Colquett. Rusty Taylor is the head coach, and the assistant coaches are Zach Taylor and Rob Vael.