Governor’s Cup provides big stage

Published 11:00am Thursday, July 24, 2014

 

Vicksburg Bandits baseball player Elijah Gonzales fields a grounder during practice Wednesday at Halls Ferry Park. Gonzales and the Bandits will play in the Governors' Cup tournament this weekend at Halls Ferry. (Ernest Bowker/The Vicksburg Post)
Vicksburg Bandits baseball player Elijah Gonzales fields a grounder during practice Wednesday at Halls Ferry Park. Gonzales and the Bandits will play in the Governors’ Cup tournament this weekend at Halls Ferry. (Ernest Bowker/The Vicksburg Post)

By any measure, it’s been a pretty good year for the Vicksburg Bandits and Vicksburg Blue Jays.

The Bandits have won 31 of 55 games in the USSSA 10-and-under AA division, won four tournaments and finished second in two others.

The Blue Jays, a 12-and-under AA team, have finished first or second in seven of their 14 tournaments since last August.

For both teams, there’s only one way to put a capper on the yearlong USSSA season — with a Governor’s Cup championship. They’ll both take their shot starting Friday, when the annual summer baseball bonanza kicks off at Halls Ferry Park.

“Hopefully we’ll try again next year, but we would love to win the Governor’s Cup,” said Blue Jays team manager Nathan Karel, who coached the team from 2008-13. “We want them to have fun in it, but it’s right up there with the state tournament and World Series. It’s a nice way to end the year.”

It might also be a nice way to cap a long and successful run as a team. They’ve won nine tournaments in seven years and are 37-18 this season.

Their time together, though, is running short.

As a 12-year-olds’ team, the Blue Jays will likely play few — if any — tournaments together once their players start moving on to the high school ranks next year.

They’ve never won the Governor’s Cup, either, so this could be their last chance to fill in that missing piece of their resumé.

“We started them as 6-year-olds and we’ve kept most of them together ever since,” said Karel, whose son, Tyler, plays on the team. “It’s been fun watching them grow, but it’s sad watching it come to an end. They’ve done a lot. We’re very proud of them.”

The Bandits have also done a lot, especially when it comes to the Governor’s Cup. They’ve won Cup titles in each of the two years they’ve been together, and will go for a third this weekend.

“We’re anxious to play because we’re so pumped up,” Bandits player Tristan Wilbanks said. “I think everybody has a little bit of pride in what we’ve done.”

Away from the cozy confines of Halls Ferry Park, they finished second in this year’s USSSA 10-and-under state tournament and won their last tournament, the Gulf Coast Summer Games in Biloxi.

“I think it’s teamwork,” Bandits coach Kevin Magee said in explaining his team’s success. “That last tournament we played, it like it was everybody picked it up. That’s what happened in the state tournament, too. Everybody clicked at the right time and we peaked at the right time.”

The Bandits have played 14 tournaments since last year’s Governor’s Cup, and will likely play four more before the fall schedule ends in October.

Two of those will come in their home park. In addition to this week’s 10-and-under tournament, the Bandits will play up an age group next week and chase the 11-year-olds’ championship.

Magee said playing with the older teams next weekend was a way to introduce his players to the bigger fields and better pitching they’ll see over the course of the next year as 11-year-olds.

His players, though, weren’t dismissing it as just a learning experience.

“They’re both our main goal,” Bandits player Spencer Elwart said when asked which tournament was more important to the players. “But we’re focusing on this one first.”

Three teams double-dipped in 2012, and two last year, but the Bandits will be the only one this time attempting to win in two different age groups.

The Vicksburg Warriors and Cudas Baseball will also play both weekends, but both teams will play in this week’s 8-year-olds’ coach pitch and next week’s 8-year-olds’ kids pitch divisions.

The total number of teams has sagged for this year’s tournament, which continues a recent downward trend.

A total of 82 teams played in 2012. Last year, the number dropped to 64, with a fourth of them in the 13-year-olds’ division. Only 50 teams have registered so far this year.

Tournament director Tim Shelton said he feels shifting schedules in other parts of Mississippi and Louisiana, the cyclical nature of tournament baseball, and competition from other tournaments around the region have all played a role in lowering the number of teams coming to play in the Governor’s Cup.

Shelton added, however, that a few less teams isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It makes the schedule a bit more manageable and eases some of the congestion around Halls Ferry Park.

Only three games will be played on Friday night, and the last game Saturday is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. The 6- and 8-year-olds tournaments will conclude before the sun sets Saturday evening.

In past years, when as many as 50 teams played in each of the two weekends, the Saturday schedule began as early as 8 a.m. and games sometimes lasted until midnight.

“You hope for around 30 or 35. But we have a big group of 14s and 12s,” Shelton said. “Twenty-five is not a bad number. It actually schedules well for our complex.”

Teams in the even-numbered age groups — 6-, 8-, 10-, 12- and 14-year-olds — will play this weekend. Odd-numbered age groups — 7-, 9-, 11- and 13-year-olds — will play next weekend.

The second weekend of the tournament will also feature the 8-and-under kid pitch division.

Admission to the tournament is $5 per day. Children under 12 are admitted free.

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