Trip to state nothing new for Brewton Babe Ruth 15s
By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
When district competition began, the Brewton Babe Ruth 15-year-old all-stars shared the same goal of reaching the state tournament with all the other teams.
The way Brewton approached that goal is probably much different than most of those teams. Their team expected to be there.
Brewton accomplished that task last week when it knocked off Covington County 3-1 at the Area Tournament held at Atmore.
Advancement to the state tournament has started to become somewhat commonplace for many of the Brewton players. Most of the roster helped Brewton finish third at the state tournament as 14-year-olds and fourth at the state tournament as 13-year-olds. Some of them also competed in the state tournament for Brewton in their last year of Little League competition for 11 and 12-year-olds.
"Each year we've had one or two different players, but for the most part we've had the same core of kids in each of these Babe Ruth state tournaments. We've also had about eight of the Brewton players who got to play in the Little League state tournament. Getting to state is something they've grown to expect," Brewton coach Baxley Raines said.
The high expectations for this year's team got sidetracked in the district opener at Excel when Brewton squandered a seven-run lead and lost to Atmore 11-10. Brewton had to win four straight elimination games to win that crown and then rolled to the Area crown in the minimum three games.
"Looking back, that loss to Atmore in the first game of the district may not have been all bad although we obviously didn't like it or think so at the time it happened," Raines said. "I think that loss served as a wakeup call. We've been a lot more focused ever since."
A big key to Brewton's success has been its pitching. Since the loss to Atmore, Brewton has allowed just 15 runs (an average of just over two per game). Brewton has used a steady rotation of righthanders Baxley
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Raines, Becker Denton, Mackie Jackson and Allen Williams.
"I think the depth we've had in our pitching staff has been a big key for us. They're all capable and I've got confidence in each of them. If you're a team that has to rely on just one or two pitchers, there are going to be days where that ace isn't on. You've got to have somebody else you can turn to," Raines said.
Raines also gives some of the credit to Brewton's pitching success to catcher Tanner Shehan.
"Tanner has pretty much been our designated catcher. He has developed a good line of communication with the pitchers. That hasn't been easy to do because this is really the first time he has caught both Baxley and Mackie. There hasn't been much time for him to get a feel for them. All in all, Tanner has done an outstanding job. We've had very few passed balls," Raines said.
Brewton has also gotten the job done at the plate, as it has hit .357 during the tournament trail.
"We've had some players hit a little better than expected and we've had a few that maybe haven't hit as well as we had hoped. At one time or another, we've had every spot in the lineup contribute," Raines said. "A key for us at the state tournament will be whether or not we can hit consistently. That is something we've had some problems with from time to time."
Winning tends to cure a lot of problems, but Raines said his players have accepted their designated roles.
"Everybody has a different role and I think our players have accepted those roles whether it be as a starter, a pinch hitter or a pinch runner. Some of them may not necessarily like their role, but I haven't heard any visible complaints," Raines said.
Raines has coached the current Brewton team throughout their all-star careers as 13, 14 and 15-year-olds. Assistant coaches Dennis Jackson and Tommy Shehan have also been a part of Raines' staff the last three years. Assistant coach Chris Smith joined the staff this year. Each coach has a son on the team, Raines with son Baxley, Jackson with son Mackie, Shehan with son Tyler and Smith with son Brad.
"Tommy, Dennis and I have been coaching the kids since Little League so we've gotten to know each other well and we work well as a unit. I think having worked together during the all-star season and against each other during the regular season, we tend to know how the other is going to think and react in a particular situation," Raines said. "Any parent who has coached his or her own child knows that can be a tough situation. It can be a no win situation no matter what you do. The way we've tried to do it is we'll try to have another coach give instruction to our sons," Raines said.
While Raines has enjoyed the father-son relationship on the diamond, he knows those days are about over.
"I've gone with Baxley throughout Little League and now Babe Ruth and I've really enjoyed it. We still take the game home with us after it's done and talk about it, but not as much as we used to," Raines said. "After this season is over, that's it. It's time for somebody else to coach Baxley so I can play the role of Dad at his games."
Raines hopes the ride may still last a while. Brewton, which received a first-round bye, opens up state tournament play Friday at 5 p.m. at Attalla.
"We finished fourth as 13s and third as 14s. Our goal is to win it, but we'd at least want to top last year's place. Getting the first-round bye helps. That is something we've never had before at the state tournament," Raines said.
Raines said the opportunity to play at the state tournament is more than just the opportunity to win a title.
"It gives the players a chance to get a little more exposure, it helps them learn some more lessons in life both on and off the diamond and if nothing else, it keeps them playing the game a while longer," Raines said.