Madison County's Senior League all-stars vying for state title tonight
It’s safe to say Bryan Wilkes has baseball on the brain.
“More than you can imagine — can’t eat, can’t sleep, having trouble working,” the Madison County Senior League all-star manager said Thursday morning. “Just a lot of emotions going on right now with everybody.”
There’s good reason to be distracted. Wilkes’ Senior League all-stars are one win away from winning a state title and clinching a berth at the Senior League regionals in Viera, Fla.
Madison County faces the Western Senior League all-stars tonight (Thursday) at 7 p.m. at Oconee County High School for the state championship. Madison County is going for its first senior league state title since 2002.
This is the second time in a week that a Madison County team will play for a title. The Little League softball all-stars fell July 17 in the state finals of their tournament.
The Senior League all-stars are riding a two-game winning streak since falling to Western July 19 to open pool play at the state tournament. Wilkes hopes momentum is on his team’s side in the rematch as it comes off an 8-1 win over Oconee County in the semifinals. Both teams have their ace pitchers working for them tonight (Thursday) with the trip to the regionals on the line.
“If we play as well as we have the past two games, we stand a great chance,” Wilkes said.
Madison County fell 6-5 to Western in the first match-up. But once teams reach the semifinals, any losses sustained during pool play are erased. That might put some pressure on Western, having not yet lost and having to beat Madison County again if it wants to move on.
Wilkes likes his team’s chances in the rematch.
“It’s hard to beat a team twice,” he said. “We’re coming off two great wins. (The players) got the attitude that they can’t be beat. I think it plays to our advantage.”
Madison County has been playing with a vengeance since the opening-day loss to Western.
The team responded with a dramatic 5-4 victory over Elbert County Tuesday to reach the semifinals and then pounded Oconee County 8-1 last night to earn a spot in the finals.
Wilkes references a "no-quit attitude."
“They’ve actually comeback and decided that they weren’t going to get beat — whatever it took,” he said.
In the win over Elbert, Sean Fernandez scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch in the top of the seventh inning and earned the win from the mound by holding Elbert off the scoreboard in the bottom half of the inning.
Ethan Gilley ran down two long fly balls in right field for the final two outs as Madison County clinched a spot in the state finals.
Wilkes also noted a stellar start on the mound by Eddie Gilbert.
Against Oconee County, Brandon Doolittle hurdled a complete-game, 74-pitch masterpiece.
Other than the inning that Oconee County scored its only run, Madison County didn’t allow a runner past second base.
Wilkes noted excellent glove work by Fernandez at shortstop and Jayson Pridgen at first base. The rest of the fielding was sound as well as Madison County shutdown Oconee.
“Everybody else just played lights-out defense,” Wilkes said.
Offensively, Pridgen had a three-hit night with two singles and a double.
NOTES: With games being played at nearby Oconee County High School, Madison County has enjoyed plenty of fan support.
“We’ve actually drawn a great crowd,” Wilkes said. “I think that’s helped tremendously with it.”
THE ROAD TO STATE: SENIOR LEAGUERS WIN DISTRICT
Madison County actually faced Hart County three times during the District 7 tournament, beating that team twice to win the district banner.
Madison County’s extended all-star run have come as a surprise to some.
“I think a lot of people were shocked,” manager Bryan Wilkes said in the days following the win. “They had already made plans. And now they’ve canceled other plans because they want to do this.”
The senior leaguers out-lasted Hart County 14-13 in a memorable 13-inning marathon July 1, before falling 9-5 two days later.
But behind a superb mound performance from Dustin Roberts, Madison County shut down Hart County 5-2 in the rubber match July 5.
Roberts allowed just five hits over seven innings and roped a two-run homer to help out his own cause. Jayson Pridgen also hit a solo homerun in the tournament-clinching win.
Wilkes praised his defense, especially the outfield, which he said, “caught everything that was hit to them.”
Wilkes also noted pitching efforts of Brandon Doolittle, Eddie Gilbert and Sean Fernandez during the series. He said the trio of arms was steady throughout the tournament, as were the gloves behind them.
“They were the probably the main reason we did as well as we did is because they were throwing strikes and the defense was backing them up,” Wilkes said.
But ultimately, the manager said he felt like his group “played their hearts out” in the deciding game against Hart County.
“I think our boys wanted it more to be honest with you,” Wilkes said. “They just came out and played harder after the loss.”