Venom latest youth team to earn tournament berth|[07/08/08]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 8, 2008

BRANDON – Twice was mighty nice for the Vicksburg Venom.

The Venom finished a four-game romp through the 10-year-olds’ Cal Ripken state tournament on Monday with a 9-2 win over Gulfport, clinching their second straight Cal Ripken state title and third state championship in two years overall.

“It’s very good. It’s exciting. We’re trying to win everything we can get,” said the Venom’s Tyler Smith, who tripled in a run, scored another, and earned a save with 1 1/3 innings of hitless relief in the championship game.

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The Venom also won the USSSA state title as 9-year-olds. This championship gives them a berth in the Cal Ripken Southwest Regional, which begins in Monticello, Ark., on July 18. There, the Venom will try to become the third Vicksburg team to advance to a world series this summer.

The 10-year-olds’ Vicksburg Red Sox will play in the USSSA World Series in Pensacola, Fla., beginning on July 13. The Vicksburg Vipers, an under-8 fast-pitch softball team, also qualified for the American Softball Association World Series in their sport, and will head to Panama City, Fla.

“It’s just a lot of fun. When we first got together as 8-year-olds we finished second, and now we’ve won the last two years,” Venom coach Todd Boolos said. “We’re looking forward to being a little more competitive at the regional.”

The Venom weren’t very competitive – or, at least, the games weren’t – at the state tournament. In going 4-0, they outscored their opponents 47-10 and scored at least nine runs in every game. Of the 12 runs allowed, eight were scored by Gulfport in two meetings with the Venom.

And Gulfport had several chances to get more in the championship game.

With the game scoreless in the top of the third, Gulfport loaded the bases with one out. Venom pitcher Dale Griffith coaxed a two-hopper to third, however, and Lee Simpson stepped on the bag then threw to second for an inning-ending double play.

In the fifth inning, Gulfport again loaded the bases with one out before Griffith got Nathan Bonck to hit a grounder up the middle. Shortstop Brooks Boolos made a diving stop and flipped to Layne Hynum for a fielder’s choice. A run scored on the play, cutting the Venom’s lead to 4-2, but Smith relieved Griffith and got Jesse Campbell to lift his first pitch to center field for a harmless flyout.

“That was a momentum turner when we turned that double play. But we take that for granted. We fully expect our defense to make those plays,” Todd Boolos said.

After escaping the jam with their lead intact, Gulfport came unglued. The Venom scored five runs on only one hit – an RBI double by Taft Nesmith – and took advantage of three walks, three wild pitches and two errors to make it 9-2.

“We made a few mental errors. It’s been a long haul for us. Our guys fought to the end and might have gotten fatigued,” Gulfport coach James Nance said, adding he was happy to give the Venom a game after escaping the loser’s bracket. Gulfport beat Vancleave on a humid afternoon, then turned around to play the Venom immediately afterward.

“I think we’re the only team that played Vicksburg close. They 10-runned everybody else and didn’t make it the six innings. We took them to the limit both times,” Nance said. “That says a lot for our team.”