E.A. Sports Today

Finally, a champion

Using lessons of past as motivation, Fairhope American wins Dixie Youth Ozone World Series, headed to Branson

Fairhope manager Andy Malone gets the water bucket shower after his team captured the DYB OZone World Series title.

Florida, 16-0
Virginia, 11-0
South Carolina, 3-2
Arkansas, 21-2
South Carolina, 7-3

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD — After so many years coming close — real close some years — the Fairhope American O-Zone All-Stars are going back to Baldwin County from the Dixie Youth World Series as champions.

The Pirates won the DYB OZone title Thursday with a 7-3 win over Clinton, S.C. They reached the championship round with a 21-2 rout of Arkansas earlier in the day.

Manager Andy Malone has taken this group to the Series five times and came close to winning it twice. As 8-year-olds the team got to the finals but came up short, then two years ago as 10s they got to the championship round in the catbird seat and lost two games the same day — and had leads in both games.

The lessons of those experiences played a big part in this year’s run to the championship.

“It’s the fifth time we’ve been to the World Series and it’s like it finally paid off,” Malone said. “We felt like we worked a little harder every harder and this year we really worked hard. We knew we were gonna have to play a team like that, we would have to beat somebody like that, and we prepared for it.”

Fairhope is the second Alabama team to win an OZone series in three years. Muscle Shoals won the title in 2014. Clinton was bidding to bring the title to South Carolina for the second year in a row.

Fairhope went 5-0 in the tournament and outscored its opponents 58-7. South Carolina gave the Alabama champs their toughest games, 3-2 and 7-3.

“That coach told me when we were done we did all we could do,” Malone continued. “I said I appreciate you saying that because that’s what I’ve been telling our team the whole time, win or lose we want to be able to say we did all we could do. … This year we could not have worked any harder. We worked our tails off and it paid off.”

Fairhope had leads of 2-0 and 3-3 in the title game only to have the South Carolina champions draw even both times, The Pirates broke it open with a four-run sixth.

They loaded the bases with their first three batters. Chad Morris’ single gave them the lead. Brooks Brasfield’s infield out brought home an insurance run and tournament batting champion Steele Sims put it out of reach with a two-run double that was just beyond the reach of South Carolina center fielder Justin Copeland.

Sims hit two of Fairhope’s five homers in the Arkansas game, went 2-for-3 in the championship game and hit .692 for the tournament (9-for-13).

“He was our hottest hitter late fall, early spring, and then he really cooled off,” Malone said. “This is a kid who historically hits in the 9-, 10-hole and worked his way all the way up to the 4-hole, cooled off late spring then heated up again. He pounded the baseball for us.”

Brasfield drove in a run in each of his three at-bats and Gatlin Pitts had a homer and started the winning rally with a leadoff double.

Josh Gunther pitched to the final out for the win. He gave up seven hits and struck out five.

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