Critters’ Series run derailed in extra innings

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 27, 2001

Judd Mims (3), second baseman for the Culkin Critters, tries to avoid the tag of Center Point, Ala., second baseman Justin Wampol in the third inning Thursday night. Mims was tagged out on the play. (The Vicksburg Post/SEAN P. MURPHY)

[07/27/01] OAK GROVE In a scene eerily similar to last year’s Dizzy Dean World Series, an undersized Culkin team clawed its way through the losers’ bracket only to fall in the championship game to a seemingly unbeatable opponent.

Last year, a team from Baton Rouge beat Culkin for the series title. On Thursday, the Alabama state champs, who had mercy-ruled every team except Culkin, finally flatlined the Cardiac Critters, 8-5.

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It was far from easy, however.

Cody Ferguson’s leadoff home run in the sixth inning tied the game at five, but it wasn’t until a two-run home run by Center Point, Ala.’s Cody Williams in the top of the eighth that the Critters’ title hopes were doused.

“You can go to anyone that we played from district, to state to here and nobody has as small a league as Culkin does,” Critters coach Bubba Mims said. “We had 21 12-year-olds registered in the whole league and 13 of them are on this team.

“We’re looking at teams here from Birmingham, Atlanta, Hattiesburg and Pensacola and these boys from tiny little Culkin Mississippi came in here and competed with all of them.”

This marks the second straight year that a group of 12-year-olds from Culkin has taken second in the 14-state Dizzy Dean tournament. The Culkin 13-year-olds begin play this weekend in the World Series in Southaven.

“They gave us tough games every time we played them,” Center Point coach Bill Gilmer said. “They are a very good hitting team and play excellent defense.”

The Critters had just six hits five off of ace pitcher Wes Gilmer, the tournament’s MVP but they could manage only one hit in five innings against relievers Carlton Paris and Jordan Hodge. Kyle Calhoun had a pair of singles and an RBI to lead Culkin.

“They could hit the ball better than anyone we played in this tournament,” Center Point’s Williams said. “They did a good job.”

Conversely, the Critters, without top pitcher Cole Smith, who injured his elbow on Tuesday, had to shuffle their pitching staff all night after winning two games on Wednesday and with the prospect of playing two on Thursday.

Hayden Hales, Calhoun, Michael Busby and Eric Richards combined to throw eight innings. After Center Point put three on the board in the top of the first, Critters’ pitchers allowed just two solo home runs over the next six innings.

“They were throwing a lot of curveballs that kept us off balance,” Williams said. “They did a good job most of the night.”

The Critters scored once in the first, then took a 4-3 lead in the second. Calhoun and Tyler Wells each had an RBI single in the inning.

Alex Jessen tied the game in the top of the fourth with a one-out home run and Paris gave Center Point the lead back in the top of the fifth with a solo shot.

After replacing Gilmer on the mound, Paris retired the first six batters he faced until Ferguson got to the plate in the sixth.

He took the first pitch high over the left field fence to again tie the score at 6. Of the next nine batters, though, Culkin got just one runner on base a walk to Richards.

“We still think we are as good as they are,” Mims said. “We just couldn’t get that big hit. We couldn’t get that run across.”

Hodge retired the Critters in order in the bottom of the eighth.

“Second place out of 14 states is not bad at all,” Ferguson said. “I’m happy about it.”

Ferguson earned championship game MVP honors for the Critters and was named to the all-tournament team.

He hit five home runs in the weeklong series, one short of the tournament record.

“We played hard until the end,” Wells said. “At the end, though, they were hitting us. That was the toughest team we’ve played this year.”