Georgia continues fighting for championship
By Kevin Eckleberry
OXFORD, Ala. – With their backs against the wall, they played like champions.
When the Georgia all-stars fell to North Carolina on Monday night, their margin for error in the Dixie Youth Baseball 11-12-year-old World Series was gone.
Georgia’s players came into Wednesday morning’s game against Arkansas knowing that if they didn’t win, their title hopes, and their season, would be over.
Georgia responded to that pressure by coming through with a thrilling, 5-4 victory over Arkansas, with Colton Esposito hitting a walk-off home run in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Georgia was at Choccolocco Park later on Wednesday for another elimination game, this time against Mississippi.
Once again, Georgia was up to the challenge.
Georgia came through with its best offensive effort of the World Series, and it remained in the hunt for the championship with an 11-7 win.
Four of the 12 World Series teams remain, and they will be on the field today.
The tournament was originally supposed to conclude today, but it will likely finish on Friday because of all the rain delays.
Georgia will play Florida at 10 a.m., while South Carolina and North Carolina will meet in the other semifinal game.
North Carolina is the lone remaining unbeaten team in the tournament.
Regardless of what happens today and possibly beyond, Georgia coach Curt Longshore made sure to make his players understand the significance of what they’ve already accomplished.
The team started the summer as Troup National, and it won the district and state tournaments to qualify for the World Series.
Now, there are four teams left standing, and Georgia is one of them.
“The thing I keep trying to drive home to them is, what an accomplishment it is to be where we are right now,” Longshore said.
Longshore said the 12 players and three coaches have grown extremely close as the summer has gone along.
“At times, we feel like we’re more than a team,” Longshore said. “There are times where we get on each other’s nerves, but at the end of the day, you go to bat for your family, and that’s what it is right now. Everybody’s just trying to do what they can do to contribute to the cause.”
After opening the World Series with a 3-0 victory over Louisiana, Georgia was blanked 7-0 by North Carolina on Monday.
After a rain-imposed day off on Tuesday, Georgia had an early-morning game against Arkansas on Wednesday.
It was a tie game when Esposito stepped to the plate leading off the bottom of the sixth inning.
Esposito got a pitch he could handle, and he drove it over the outfield fence for the game-winner.
Georgia scored its other four runs in the third inning.
Hill’s home run was the big blow in the inning, and Preston Pressley had a double.
Dallas Pearson added a single in the inning, and Jimmie Jackson reached on an error.
Pressley finished with two doubles, Hill had two hits with a home run, and Bryson Monteith had a double.
Esposito started and pitched four innings, and Pressley and Hill finished things off on the mound.
Hill was the winning pitcher.
It was a tight game, but Longshore said the moment never felt too big for the players.
“We just kept battling,” he said. “There wasn’t a point in the first game where we felt we were pressured. Everybody just had a relaxed feel to them.”
After a lunch break, Georgia was ready to go again, and Longshore had a feeling the players were headed for a breakout offensive performance against Mississippi.
In its first three World Series games, Georgia had been limited to eight runs.
“When we got to the park, we talked to the guys, and we told them they were due with the sticks,” Longshore said. “We told them we were going to come around.”
He was right.
Georgia got contributions throughout the lineup while reaching double digits in runs
Pressley was the leadoff hitter, and he did his job to perfection with four hits and three runs scored.
Blake Shepard added four hits with three RBIs, Hill and Booton each came through two hits, and Monteith had a triple.
Booton was the starting pitcher, and he hadn’t allowed a run after leaving the game following 3 1/3 innings.
From there, Pressley, Sheppard and Hill combined to finish things off on the mound.
Mississippi tried to make things interesting by scoring three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning, but Esposito made a nice play on a hard-hit grounder at shortstop for the third out.
Hill faced one batter in the seventh to get the save.
In the top of the first, Pressley led off with the first of his four hits, and he later scored on a Booton fielder’s choice.
Georgia added two more runs in the second inning to go up 2-0.
Sheppard led off with a single, and after walks to Monteith and Avery Hewell, he scored on a wild pitch.
After Dallas Pearson walked, Jackson earned a free pass of his own to drive in a run and make it a 3-0 game.
Georgia busted things open with four runs in the third inning.
It was Pressley getting the rally started once again with a base hit, and Hill followed with an infield single.
Booton’s RBI single made it a 4-0 game, and two batters later, Sheppard brought in two more runs with a base hit.
Avery Hewell reached on an error with two outs, allowing another run to score, and Georgia led 7-0.
With its lead down to 7-2, Georgia scored an insurance run in the fifth inning on a triple by Monteith.
Georgia capped its scoring with three runs in the top of the seventh to go up 11-4.
Hill and Sheppard each had RBI singles in the inning, and Booton scored on an error after reaching on a hit.
Pressley jump-started the rally with his fourth hit.