Critters cruise into third straight world series

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 12, 2002

Tyler Wells of the Vicksburg Critters, right, tags out Moose Carney during a practice last week. The Critters will be making their third straight appearance in a world series.(The Vicksburg PostJON GIFFIN)

[07/11/02]For nearly six years, the Culkin Critters have been one of the best teams in Mississippi. For the last three years, they’ve been the best.

Soon, they hope to be the best in the country.

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The Critters, winners of two straight Dizzy Dean World Series championships as 11- and 12-year-olds, won the 13-year-olds’ Super Series of America state title in June.

Now known as the Vicksburg Critters, the team will take another shot at a national title when they start the Super Series of America American Division National Championship tournament on July 13 in Tulsa, Okla.

“I think we’ve got a 50-50 chance. If we go out there and play our game, we’ll win it,” said Critter third baseman Cody Ferguson, whose older brother Jeremy won a state title at Warren Central in 2001. “That’d be awesome (to win). I could brag to my older brother.”

The Critters already have bragging rights over most of the teams they’ve played. The team, originally a league all-star team from the tiny Culkin Athletic Association in Warren County, has been together since they were 7 years old.

Despite playing many games against select teams that draw players from much larger areas, they’ve posted a 248-34 record over the last four years to go along with the three state championships.

The team’s skill doesn’t turn as many heads as does the fact that it all of the players are from the same league.

“We’ve lost a few and added a few, but the majority of them have been together since they were 7 years old,” Critters coach Bubba Mims said. “People can’t believe it. They ask me all the time where the kids are from, and when I tell them they say, man, don’t give me that.’ It’s amazing that you can get kids like that. But you don’t get many moving in, either.”

Keeping the same core of players together for so long has helped the team jump back into competition after long layoffs. With several Critters playing for high school junior varsity teams already, they were unable to practice together until the middle of May.

That didn’t matter at the state tournament, where they outscored their opponents 45-16 and rolled to a perfect 5-0 record.

“We’ve been working for four or five weeks. We went down to the Super Series and won it against teams that have been playing for four or five months. I think that says something right there,” said catcher Tyler Wells, who also played in several games with the varsity for Porters Chapel Academy this spring.

Despite all of their success, the Critters have never been able to claim a world series championship. The closest they’ve come is a runner-up finish as 11-year-olds in the 2000 Dizzy Dean World Series.

They’ll try to change that in Tulsa, at the 64-team Super Series National Championships. After winning the state title, the Critters had a choice of playing in the American Division tournament in Tulsa or the All-Star Division tournament in Collierville, Tenn.

The divisions are essentially the same, although the American Division is slightly more advanced. The challenge, as well as the chance to play teams from out west instead of familiar teams from the southeast, lured Mims and the Critters to Tulsa.

“We didn’t want to play those same teams we’ve already seen and beaten,” Mims said.

Now a whole new group of foes will have to prepare for the Critters, as well. The team features a potent lineup and a deep pitching staff. Michael Busby, who hit .667 in the state tournament and was named MVP, is the ace, but at least a half-dozen Critters will pitch at the National Championships.

That, combined with the team’s familiarity, will make them a force to be reckoned with, Mims said.

“They know every one of their faults and every one of their strengths. They know each other well,” Mims said. “They all play at different schools now, but get them together as Critters and it’s all the difference in the world. It’s like they can’t let the others down.”