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Critters slam Grenada, Oak Grove for shot at title

[07/26/01] OAK GROVE Storm clouds and drizzle loomed over Optimist Park all evening Wednesday, but everything was sunny for the Culkin Critters.

The Critters advanced to Thursday night’s championship round of the 12-year-olds’ Dizzy Dean World Series with a 5-2 win over Grenada and a 7-0 shutout of host Oak Grove, earning a rematch with Center Point, Ala.

Culkin, which lost to Center Point 8-2 on Monday, will have to win twice to win the title. The first game starts at 6:30 p.m., followed by game two, if necessary.

“If we play good, we can beat them. I haven’t met a 12-year-old team I couldn’t beat with this group of guys,” Culkin coach Bubba Mims said.

Monday’s loss was still fresh on the minds of some of the Culkin players.

“I want revenge, that’s what I want,” said Kyle Calhoun, who allowed two hits, walked none and struck out four in three scoreless innings against Oak Grove.

Calhoun teamed with Hayden Hales, Eric Richards and Michael Busby on the two-hit shutout of Oak Grove, which got its only two hits on a bad-hop single and an infield single.

Tournament rules limit pitchers to three innings per day, so Mims and the Culkin coaching staff had to juggle their rotation to make it through both games. Calhoun, a center fielder who has rarely been used as a pitcher, baffled Oak Grove with a mixture of fastballs, curves and sliders, and earned the win.

“After getting beat last night, I think we came out a little flat,” said Oak Grove coach Willie Macko, whose team lost to Center Point on Tuesday. “(Calhoun) kept us off-balance with the curveball all night.”

Culkin’s offensive output was just as much a team effort as the pitching. The Critters collected nine hits from seven players, and five different players drove in runs.

Cody Ferguson led the charge by going 2-for-3 with a solo home run, while Judd Mims drove in the first two Culkin runs with a bases-loaded walk in the first inning and a squeeze-bunt single in the third.

The bases-loaded single scored Busby and ignited a four-run rally that blew the game open. Culkin had five straight singles to start the inning, including an RBI single by Spencer “Moose” Carney, and took a 5-0 lead.

The Critters added two more in the fourth on an RBI groundout by Hales and Ferguson’s homer.

As a light drizzle finally began to fall, Richards and Busby shut the door on Oak Grove. The duo retired six of the seven batters they faced in the last two innings. In the game, Oak Grove hit only two balls out of the infield.

“These kids have been together for a while. We’ve been together since they were eight years old,” Bubba Mims said. “Our goal is to win the World Series, and we feel we have a shot at it.”

Culkin 5, Grenada 2

The Critters started slow in their first game Wednesday, but Ferguson was red-hot the whole way through.

The Culkin left fielder went 3-for-3 with a solo homer and a pair of RBI singles to lead the Critters back from an early 2-0 deficit.

“They were throwing me my pitches, and I just hit it,” said Ferguson, who also stole two bases.

Mario Noel gave Grenada the lead in the top of the second inning with a two-run homer to right. Ferguson cut it to 2-1 in the bottom of the inning with his home run that just cleared the center field fence, but it took the Critters two more innings to finally take the lead.

Hales led off the bottom of the fourth with a single, then stole second and scored on a Ferguson single to tie the game. Ferguson went to third on a single by Richards two batters later and scored on a sacrifice fly by Tyler Wells to give the Critters a 3-2 lead.

Bobby Hilbun’s second single of the game scored Richards and made it 4-2, and the Critters added an insurance run in the fifth on Ferguson’s second RBI single.

Busby, who also had two hits, made sure that was plenty. He threw two innings of perfect relief, striking out the first four batters he faced.

“We played them earlier this week and it was a 7-6 game, so I knew they were going to come ready to play,” Culkin assistant Chris Busby said of Grenada. “We got started a little late, but we hit and ran the bases well.”