Pitching will be at a premium as Mudcats move up

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 1, 2003

[8/1/03]Most youth baseball coaches are happy with having a pair of pitchers who can take the mound and throw strikes when called upon.

Mississippi Mudcats coach Marshall Upton said he has at least nine players who can throw the ball hard and accurately. What’s even more mystifying is the Mudcats have never pitched in a competition before.

The Mudcats, comprised of 8-year-olds, will move up to the 9-year-olds’ division of the Governor’s Cup, which begins its second group of brackets this evening.

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Last weekend, the Mudcats suffered a 9-8 loss in the championship game of the 7-and-8-year-olds’ division. But this weekend, it’s a whole new ballgame.

The biggest adjustment for the team will be changing from coach-pitch to player-pitch baseball.

That means more than just pitching. They’ll have to learn bunting, stealing, leads and signs.

Upton said the Mudcats have been practicing for four hours each day this week in preparation for the jump up.

“We’ve been working real hard on the fundamentals of pitching and catching,” Upton said. “We’ve also worked on balance and follow-through.”

What makes this division even more interesting is that the Vicksburg Angels, a team of 9-year-olds who were the Mudcats last season, are in the same bracket. The two teams are not scheduled to meet in pool play, however, but could meet in Sunday’s championship round.

Upton’s son, Cameron, will get the start in tonight’s 6 p.m. game against the Culkin Bulldogs.

Upton said he also expects to see Reed Evans, Matt Smith and Cale Luke on the mound this weekend.

“We’ve practiced throwing off our knees and learning accuracy for the past year now,” he said. “We’ve been preparing for this.”

With the increased importance of the catcher’s role, Luke will switch from shortstop to play behind the plate and make use of his strong arm. When he’s on the mound, Matthew Jones will take over at catcher.

Upton said he’s not too concerned with how his players will adapt when they face the pitchers in the tournament.

In March, the Mudcats played an exhibition against a team of 10-year-olds from Cleveland and won 8-2.

Despite having never faced real pitching before, the Mudcats held their own.

If the Mudcats find themselves facing a pitcher that’s too much for the kids to handle, Upton said he’ll have them bunt and try to play small-ball to win.

“We faced four fast left-handers in Cleveland, and I thought it would scare the fool out of them,” Upton said. “But we got 21 hits in the game and won.”