Governor’s Cup adds division

Published 11:41 am Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Governor’s Cup will conclude its 19th edition with a tournament several years in the making.

For the first time, the Cup will include an 8-year-olds’ kid pitch division in addition to the competition in the 7-, 9-, 11-, 13- and 16-year-olds’ brackets.

The addition to the tournament’s final weekend comes after several failed attempts to get it up and running. It was first offered in 2009, but quickly canceled when not enough teams signed up to play. Another attempt last year failed for the same reason. Four teams signed on this year, enough to play a round-robin and seeded elimination round.

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The kid pitch tournament begins on Saturday afternoon. Play in all other age groups starts on Friday night.

“To be a part of the first kid pitch tournament in the Governor’s Cup, we’re proud to be a part of that. Hopefully it’s the start of a new tradition,” said Brad Warnock, a coach with the Vicksburg-based Mudcats team that will play in the tournament.

All four teams in this weekend’s kid pitch tournament also participated in last week’s 8-and-under coach pitch tournament. A quirk in the schedule, however, will allow them to return to the field and for the players to take the mound for the first time.

Because the Governor’s Cup spans the end of the 2011 USSSA season and the start of the 2012 season on Aug. 1, tournament organizers have tweaked the rules a bit regarding age. While all of the players are technically considered 9 years old by the USSSA, they’re 8 under the Governor’s Cup rules.

“The Governor’s Cup has always grandfathered everybody back to their previous age because new teams haven’t been able to form yet,” Vicksburg Warren Athletic Association board member Scott Verhine said.

To limit the effect of the pitchers’ and catchers’ inexperience, several adjustments to the rules have been made. Baserunners are not allowed to lead off and can’t attempt to steal a base until the ball crosses the plate. They can advance on a passed ball or wild pitch, but aren’t allowed to take home plate on one. No balks will be called, and a third strike will be considered an out regardless of whether it’s dropped or not.

“That’s going to take the pressure off the pitchers and catchers,” Warnock said.

In preparation for the tournament, Warnock said the Mudcats have had most of their players throwing off a mound for about two months. At a practice Monday, the inexperience showed. Many pitches were balls and one player needed a few moments to recover after getting hit in the back — another new experience they’ll surely endure this weekend.

“It’s a lot different. It’s easier to hit off the coaches,” said Mudcats player Shayne Ragan.

Teams in the tournament are guaranteed at least three games, and those that make the championship game will play four. To make it through that two-day gauntlet, Warnock said most of the Mudcats will see at least some time on the mound. That will not only expose most of them to pitching, but also help minimize fatigue on their young arms.

“We’ll probably watch their pitch counts. In practice we allowed every kid to pitch. I can’t say that’ll happen this weekend, but at least six or eight of our 10 players will pitch,” Warnock said. “We’ve told them not to worry about throwing anything but fastballs. Not that they’d know how to throw a curveball, but just worry about the velocity of the pitch and throw strikes and let the defense work behind them.”