June 16, 2018 11:08:53 PM
The names didn't faze Blayze Berry or Beau Bates.
Berry and Bates also didn't let the schools their opponents had committed to bother them either because they knew they belonged on the same field with some of the nation's top prospects.
Nine games later, Berry and Bates proved they could compete with some of the top prospects from across the country at the 24th-annual Junior Sunbelt Classic, which ended earlier this week at McAlester's Mike Deak Field and at Eastern Oklahoma State College.
Berry, a rising junior from Heritage Academy in Columbus, and Bates, a rising senior from Caledonia High School, played integral roles in Team Mississippi's fifth-place showing at the annual event. The tournament featured teams from Oklahoma (Blue and Gold), Texas, Georgia, Canada, Tennessee, Missouri, Arizona, Mississippi, and Colorado.
"Going into it, I knew there were some big-name players out there, so I knew to get out there you had to be pretty good," Berry said. "The host families did a great job. It was nothing but perfect. All of the competition was stout. There are not bad players out there."
Team Mississippi beat Canada 7-5 and 10-5 in its final two games to finish with a 4-5 record.
Former New Hope High and current Brandon High coach Stacy Hester is the head coach. Former Caledonia High coach John Wilson and former Columbus High coach Jeff Cook serve as assistant coaches.
Wilson said was impressed with Berry after watching him throw the team's only complete game in a 7-1 victory against Tennessee.
"He mixed it up," Wilson said. "He was 86 most of the game and hit 88."
Berry logged nine innings in three games. He allowed six hits and two runs. He walked five and struck out six. Berry allowed only four hits and two walks in the seven-inning complete game. He struck out six in a 105-pitch effort.
"He hit his spots and was a pitcher, not a thrower," Wilson said. "You don't find a lot of kid to do that nowadays."
Wilson joked that Berry can return to Oklahoma with Team Mississippi "anytime" he wants to, which means he has an inside track and earning a roster spot for the 2019 team.
Berry said he plans to return to Oklahoma next season. He admitted to being a little "amped" up for Mississippi's game against Tennessee, an opponent that featured 11 players who have committed to Southeastern Conference schools. Berry's performance is bound to attract plenty of attention, especially considering he has two more years of high school ball.
"I knew I had to pitch lights out," Berry said. "I saw (pitching against a team with that many college commitments) as a challenge. I took what was given."
Berry said his changeup was really working and that he used it as his go-to pitch.
"It was filthy," said Berry, who is a member of the East Coast Baseball 2020 Pro team. "I could throw every pitch for a strike. My slider was working and I was able to get my two-seam on the hitters' hands."
Berry played in the infield and served as designated hitter when he didn't pitch. He went 5-for-16 with a double, home run, and three RBIs. Berry will
Bates saw some playing time in the 2017 Junior Sunbelt Classic as an alternate on Team Mississippi. This year, he started seven games and played in eight. He went 6-for-13, scored five runs and had one home run and four RBIs. He went 2-for-2 with a double and a home run in a 7-1 victory against Tennessee on Monday. He went 3-for-3 with a double and a home run in a 10-8 loss to Arizona on Monday.
"Playing against people from all over was the coolest thing," said Bates, who saw the majority of his playing time in the outfield. "I feel like I was seeing the ball pretty good. I was just trying to put the ball in play and to hit it where it was pitched."
Bates said he took pride in being able to represent the state of Mississippi, the Golden Triangle, and Caledonia. He made his comments as he was traveling to Auburn, Alabama, to take part in another summer ball event as a member of the East Coast Baseball 2019 Select team. Berry also was at the event.
"It was a big confidence boost because I did good," said Bates, who hopes to play baseball in college. "I feel like I went out there and did good. I felt like I could do it and compete like I did."
Wilson hopes the experience gives Bates something to build on for the rest of the summer and for his senior season. He believes Bates and Berry have promising futures if they continue to work hard.
"They both did real well and represented our area real well," Wilson said. "Beau had two hits against a left-hander from Tennessee who was throwing 90 mph. Against Arizona, we faced a left-hander who was throwing 85-86 and had a nice slider and he hit about a 400-foot home run."
Tyler Ducksworth (South Jones High, Ellisville) was the only member of Team Mississippi to make the all-tournament team.
Arizona beat Colorado 8-3 on Wednesday to win the championship and cap a 9-0 run through the field.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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