E.A. Sports Today

One more step: 5 DYB teams seek state success


By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD – Mike Hughston’s Oxford Black O-Zone all-stars set a simple goal when they opened practice on the Dixie Youth Baseball tournament trail this year: Go farther than they did a year ago.

Last year, the team made the state tournament and was headed home after three games. It made it back this year to Fairhope — with virtually the same team and more seasoning — with dreams of reaching their World Series in South Carolina.

Their quest begins Saturday at 12:30 p.m. against Enterprise. A win would send them to play the winner of Fairhope American and Muscle Shoals Sunday at 5:30.

“Last year probably half the team was 11-year-olds and half were 12s,” Hughston said. “It was a great experience; we just came up a little short.

“This year we have a little more experience and a little more depth, particularly at pitching. I feel a little better this year about our team because of our experience and having older players.”

Four other Calhoun County teams share those Dixie Youth World Series dreams – two going through Fairhope and two in Troy.

Alexandria, playing O-Zone all-stars for the first time, plays Selma Saturday at 2:30 and Piedmont plays Dothan American Red at 4:30. If all the local teams stay on track, Alexandria and Piedmont would meet in the third round with that winner facing Oxford Black in the fourth.

Meanwhile, the Oxford Black AAA team opens its state tournament in Troy Saturday against defending champion Piedmont at 3 p.m. The teams will face either South Bibb or East Montgomery in their second games.

Oxford Black is expected to send either Harrison Hughston or Wesley Sparks to the mound in their O-Zone tournament opener. Hughston threw a two-hitter against Pleasant Valley in the district tournament and Sparks pitched the clincher against Alexandria. Trey Mooney is a reliable closer behind them.

“A lot of these guys played on this team last year as 11-year-olds,” Hughston said. “We set a goal when we started practicing to make it back to the state playoffs. Now our goal is to win it and go as far as possible.”

Alexandria had a little longer road to get to the state tournament, having been detoured through the sub-state in Priceville, but manager Daniel Ellison believes the team is better for the experience. Last year it went straight from the district to the Majors state tournament and was put out in three games.

“I think it really helped us out going to the sub-state,” Ellison said. “Last year we won and had that lay-out. Having those games and seeing those pitchers (this year), I think it helped us as far as staying in the groove.”

Alexandria’s first-game starter will come from among Landon Comer, Layton Ellison and left-hander Dylan Digangi.

Piedmont manager Shane Kirk is expected to send hard-throwing Mason Mohon to the mound in his opener. He can come behind Mohon with Sean Smith and Weston Kirk, but a deep pitching staff is not necessarily the strength of this team.

It has a balanced lineup with pop in every spot. Nine of its hitters have home runs this tournament season and twice they’ve won games with grand slams in the bottom of the fifth.

“If we can get by the first game and the jitters I think we have a chance to win,” Kirk said. “Getting by that first game every year is the tough one. This year we’re capable of doing it. We’ve played so many games this time I think we’re ready for that.”

The Oxford Black AAA team has gone 10-0 in two preliminary tournaments. There are some who link this team to the AA group that finished second in the state and fifth in the regional tournament two years ago, but there are only five players from that team on this squad.

“We’re still a young baseball team; we have some kids who never made all-stars before,” manager Shelley Tyree said. “This is a group of kids who has heart; they want to play together. Last year’s team had the talent, this team has the heart.”

And some pitching and pop. Opening-game pitcher Breyton Cornelius threw a four-inning perfect game in the sub-district tournament, striking out nine of the 12 batters he faced. He also hit a home run. Shortstop-pitcher Carson Tyree has hit two grand slams this tournament season.

Cornelius will be facing a team he beat earlier this year, but one that knows what in big games is all about. Piedmont is playing its fourth straight state tournament appearance and has six players back from the team that played three games in last year’s World Series in Mississippi.

Piedmont is expected to start Cassius Fairs, who threw a no-hitter in the District 8 tournament.

“When the brackets came out and I saw we were playing Oxford Black, I knew we drew a tough opponent,” Piedmont manager Chris Hanson said. “They’ve got a really good pitcher I expect to see and they hit the baseball all the way through the lineup. It’s a tough draw; we’ve got two county teams playing each other and one of us is going end up with a loss in the first round.”

Al Muskewitz is Content Editor/Senior Writer of East Alabama Sports Today. He can be reached at musky@wrightmediacorp.com and followed on Twitter @easportstoday1.

Saturday’s Games
O-Zone (in Fairhope)
Oxford Black vs. Enterprise, 12:30 p.m.
Alexandria vs. Selma, 2:30 p.m.
Piedmont vs. Dothan American Red, 2:30 p.m.

AAA (in Troy)
Oxford Black vs. Piedmont, 3 p.m.

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