Troup all-stars competing for state title
By Kevin Eckleberry
ROBERTA – With his team’s season and hopes on the line, Troup National coach Curt Longshore put the ball in the hands of Rocky Pemberton.
After winning its opening game in the Dixie Youth Baseball 11-12-year-old state tournament on Friday night, Troup National lost to Seminole County 6-5 on Saturday.
That put Troup National in a do-or-die situation against Manchester on Saturday night.
A win, and Troup National would be guaranteed a spot in the state semifinals this weekend in Crawford County.
A loss, and Troup National’s summer would be over.
Fortunately for Troup National, it had Pemberton on the mound.
Pemberton was brilliant, throwing 5 2/3 innings of one-hit baseball as Troup National beat Manchester 9-1 to move a step closer to a state title.
Troup National finished first in its four-team pool, and it will play Crawford County on Friday in the semifinals.
The winner of the state tournament will qualify for the Dixie Youth Baseball World Series in August.
Troup National opened state play with a 9-3 victory over West Augusta on Friday night.
In Saturday’s first game against Seminole County, Troup National had the tying run on third base when the game ended.
“We still had plenty of opportunities,” Longshore said. “We missed some signs, couldn’t get a bunt down, had some base-running blunders, and couldn’t get a crucial hit. But you’ve got days like that in baseball.”
After an extended break, Troup National returned for the critical game against Manchester.
“We knew what we had to do,” Longshore said. “We talked to them after the game. We were supposed to have five hours of down time, so the team went out and watched a movie together. After that, they came back to the ballfield and they were loose and they just enjoyed being around each other.”
Longshore was 100 percent confident with the man who would be facing down Manchester’s batters.
“I talked to Rocky Pemberton before the game,” Longshore said. “He was on my regular-season team. I knew he was a big-game pitcher. I told him it was his ballgame. I told him to do his job, and throw strikes, and get groundballs. And he pitched one of the best games of his young life. He struck out 13 or 14.”
After getting the first two outs in the sixth inning, Trevor Booton recorded the final out, and Troup National was moving on.
“When he came out of the game, everybody was real appreciative of Rocky’s effort,” Longshore said. “They gave him a standing ovation. It was one of those special moments.”
Longshore said despite the magnitude of the moment, Pemberton was unphased.
“He never showed signs that the game was too big, or that sort of thing,” Longshore said. “He knew what he had to do, and he just went out and executed.”
Longshore added that “the guys were behind him, and they kept telling him every pitch, we’ve got your back, and you just do your job.”
Blake Sheppard had three hits for Troup National with a double in the fourth inning, and Preston Pressley had two hits from the leadoff position, including a triple in the third inning.
Colton Esposito was on base three times with a hit and two walks, Steven Hill and Avery Hewell each had RBI singles during a four-run fourth inning, and Bryson Monteith and Trevor Booton both had hits.
Dallas Pearson and Lane Christie each reached base and scored runs for Troup National.
“We were able to be aggressive on the base paths and take advantage of their mistakes,” Longshore said.
In Saturday’s first game against Seminole County, Pressley had two hits with a double, Esposito and Gryson Cockrell both had doubles, and Booton, Hill, Hewell and Pemberton each had hits.
Esposito was the starting pitcher and he threw into the third inning, and Hill pitched 3 1/3 innings to finish it.