They did it.
After falling just short as 9-and 10-year-olds the past two years, the 11-year-old Phil Hardin All-Stars came away as state champions this past weekend at the Mississippi Cal Ripken State Tournament in Petal.
“It was by far our best showing,” coach Chuck Butler said. “We played really well in all phases of the game. We played great defense, pitched really well, and there wasn’t anybody in our lineup that didn’t get a hit. It was just a real solid baseball weekend for us.”
Added team member Cole Boswell, “It was pretty awesome to go down (to Petal) and win it all. We just all thought the trophy belonged here in Meridian.”
But the job isn’t finished, as Butler and his squad will now make the trek to Hurley next weekend to compete in the Regional Tournament.
The Phil Hardin All-Stars will contend with some of the top teams from around the region, including Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico and Texas.
“There’s no doubt that the competition is going to get stiffer,” Butler said. “I expect for the pitchers to have more than one pitch, and we’ll face good competition. But if we play as well as we played last weekend, we’ll make a good showing. We’ll have to get breaks here and there, but I feel we’ll make a good showing.”
With a concentration on defense and pitching, evidenced by a few stellar plays by second baseman Ben Patrick, Butler will look to rely on a strong defensive effort to potentially set the tone for the newly-minted Mississippi state champions.
“The biggest difference last week between us and everybody else was the way we played defense,” Butler said. “If you play good defense, you don’t have to have a great day at the plate. You don’t have to score as many runs.”
Added Patrick, “We played good defense. We worked hard together as a team.”
The Phil Hardin All-Stars managed to play some of their best ball at the most opportune of times this past weekend.
"It was exciting for me to see the kids finally getting a taste of winning it all," Butler said. "They worked hard, and they've come so close a few times, and now they got to taste that thrill of victory."
Yet the defensive effort is the result of endless hours spent on the practice fields.
“We’ve worked harder this year than we’ve ever had,” Zane Pritchard said. “We have a very good team. We played our hearts out, and it paid off. Representing Meridian is really awesome. This is where my mom’s side has lived for three generations.”
And the squad has the added benefit of being able to compete alongside friends they have played with for a number of years.
“It was really fun winning the championship and being able to do it with all my friends was special,” Brock Butler said. “That’s kind of awesome to me.”
Ultimately, the Phil Hardin All-Stars are competing at a high level while also developing friendships and life lessons along the way.
“I grew up in sports, so I know how important it is to learn to play as a team,” the elder Butler said. “Some sports don’t offer themselves to that team concept. But in baseball, the entire team pays for an individual’s mistakes. You’re responsible for your actions.
“There’s a ton of indirect life lessons learned through team sports. They learn to play together; they learn to work together, and to pull in the same direction. The kids learn not to be selfish and to be disciplined.”
They did it.
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