Columbus Nationals face familiar situation

July 19, 2009

Adam Minichino - [email protected]


TUPELO --┬áThe Columbus Nationals learned how to bounce back after a loss at the Dizzy Dean South Half State Tournament. 


That lesson will be put to the test at the Dizzy Dean World Series. 


Nick Feenker and Jake Griffin hit home runs Saturday morning to lead the Oak Mountain (Ala.) All-Stars to a 12-2 victory against the Columbus Nationals in the 10-year-old World Series at the Tupelo Sportsplex. 


The loss drops the Columbus Nationals (1-1) into the losers'' bracket, where they will face Bill Bond Baseball (Pensacola, Fla.) at 10 a.m. today. 


Oak Mountain (2-0), which finished fourth in its Alabama''s Dizzy Dean state tournament, will play the Lynn Haven (Fla.) Longhorns at 5:30 p.m. today in a winners'' bracket game. 


The Columbus Nationals had just five hits and committed three errors that contributed to eight unearned runs.  


As a result, the outcome Saturday morning was similar to an 8-4 loss the Columbus Nationals suffered to Clinton in a winners'' bracket game at the Dizzy Dean South Half State Tournament at Propst Park. 


The Columbus Nationals rebounded from that loss to beat Ackerman and Clinton twice in the span of two days to earn a trip to Tupelo. 


The team will have to put its pitching, defense, and hitting together like it did in those three victories if it wants to stay alive in the double-elimination World Series. 


"We got off to a good start in the first inning and had the first three guys get on base," Columbus Nationals manager Rory Sneed said. "We had a basehit and had an unfortunate play at the plate where a kid didn''t slide. The rules state exactly what happened." 


Tyler Anderson homered on the third pitch from Joseph Hartsfield to tie the game at 1. Thomas Stevens and Deonteau Rives followed with singles to put runners on second and third. LaQuinston Sharp singled sharply to right field to score Stevens, but the relay throw from the outfield to the infield to the catcher cut down Rieves, who collided with catcher Jacob Rich. 


The home plate umpire then ejected Rieves from the game for "malicious contact." 


The Columbus Nationals didn''t seem like the same team after that. They managed just one more hit against two other pitchers and struck out six times in the mercy-rule shortened, four-inning game. 


"That, to me, was the changing point in the game," Sneed said of Rieves'' ejection. "One of our better players was now on the bench and I think it deflated the team a little bit. (Oak Mountain) hit the ball in the second inning and got a little bit of a lead and it was the same thing that happened against Clinton, we kind of gave up a little bit. That is one thing we have to improve on, that attitude or demeanor that when things go wrong we still have to work hard." 


While the Columbus Nationals struggled, Oak Mountain clicked on all cylinders. 


Logan Whittlesey followed Hartsfield and pitched two strong innings as Oak Mountain built its lead with three runs in the second, two in the third, and five more in the fourth. 


Feenker''s two-run home run in the second came after an infield throwing error with two outs. He went with the pitch from Sharp and blasted it over the right-field fence. 


Griffin added a solo home run -- also to right field -- in the third against Sharp, who pitched three innings and allowed six hits and seven runs, three earned. 


"We have a lot of power hitters on our team," Oak Mountain manager Steve Garmany said. "We''re blessed with strong pitching and we have a strong defense, and when our bats are going there is not anyone out there who can stop us."  


Feenker, Griffin (two hits), and Caleb Floyd each had two RBIs, and Slate Garmany had two hits in the team''s 10-hit attack. 


Manager Garmany said Saturday''s effort was one of his team''s best all-around performances. He said the team''s defense keeps it in nearly every game and its pitchers don''t walk many batters, which prevents opponents from earning easy runs. 


Oak Mountain added the final touch at the plate, capitalizing on six walks. Only one batter struck out. 


"They did a good job of putting the ball in play and making the other team work to get us out," Garmany said.  


Sneed was impressed with Oak Mountain''s performance. 


"They have a great team," Sneed said. "I can''t take anything away from them. They outplayed us. No doubt about it. They hit the ball from top to bottom. Their pitching is strong, and they look a lot like us when we''re playing well."  


Sneed hopes his players learned a valuable lesson from their first loss in the South Half State Tournament and can deliver a repeat performance at the World Series. 


"I hope we will respond," Sneed said. "I try to remind them that each day is a new day and you never know what is going to happen. The best team doesn''t always win, but the team that gives its best effort and plays the best that day wins the game. If we come prepared (Sunday) and play well we have a good chance of going a lot further in the tournament."  


The Columbus Nationals advanced to Saturday''s game with a 12-3 victory against Limestone County, Ala., on Friday. Rieves (four strikeouts) and Logan Sneed (two strikeouts) split the six innings on the mound. Sharp and Stevens hit home runs and Thomas Cooper had two hits in the 12-hit attack. 


"I thought we played pretty well," Sneed said. "Our defense was pretty solid, for the most part, and we hit the ball and pitched well. When we do those things we should have a good chance to win."

Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.