In July 10-16 issueBy Derek AaronTimes Journal ReporterABOVE: Garret Stephens, member of the District Champs 14-year-old Russell County Babe Ruth team, during his team’s 9-2 victory over Somerset.
RUSSELL SPRINGS - Babe Ruth teams from six different counties, including Russell, ascended this past weekend to Laker Field to participate in the Babe Ruth Leagues of Kentucky District 5 baseball tournaments.
The 13-year-old and 15-year-old tournaments, which are each 4-team, double elimination style, and the 14-year-old tournament, which is a best of three series, has brought many players, coaches, officials and parents to the area, according to District 5 Commissioner Marshall Todd of Somerset.
Todd said, as the host team, Russell County welcomes each team with open arms.
"They really do a great job here," he said. "I don't have to worry about getting anything ready for the tournament because it is always done before I get here."
He said everyone from the neighboring counties was met with hospitality and made to feel welcome.
"They have great facilities over here and we're glad each time we come over here," Todd said. "That's why we like coming back so much."
Sherri Selby and Jennifer Cross are in charge of the concession stand throughout the ongoing, week-long tournament. They said, so far, they have been busy every night, selling a large variety of baseball game favorites to the fans that have journeyed here from out of county.
The 13-year-old teams involved in the tournament are Somerset-Pulaski, Russell County, McCreary County and Rockcastle County. The 14-year-old teams are Somerset-Pulaski and Russell County and the 15-year-old teams are Russell County, McCreary County, Adair County and Campbellsville.
Martin Cross, a key player for the Russell County 15-year-old Babe Ruth squad, said there was an added benefit to being the host because of the familiarity of playing on his home field. But, he added, that each team comes here with a purpose, and that's to win.
Cross's team was victorious in each of their first two games, beginning last Saturday.
"Saturday we didn't field too good, but we won a close game against McCreary County and Sunday we played a little better," he said. "We didn't have any errors at all and we hit the ball a lot better than we did the previous day." Russell County beat Adair County, 10-3, on Sunday sending them to the loser's bracket.
The Russell County teams each have a capable number of coaches with Barry Coffey, Darrell Selby and David Cross coaching the 15-year-olds, Richard Bennett, Josh Popplewell and David Aaron coaching the 14-year-olds and Eric Hadley and Robert Frank coaching the 13-year-old team.
Popplewell, a recent Russell County High graduate and Lindsey Wilson College baseball signee, is coaching players for the first time ever in a tournament atmosphere.
"You pick up a lot transitioning from playing to coaching," he said. "You see a lot you used to do back when you played and you can tell these kids to do it differently by putting it into terms they can understand."
Popplewell, who will be a freshman at LWC in the fall, said he could also relate to the players better in some aspects of the game because of the closeness in their ages.
"We've got a really good group," he said. We've got some speed and some power and I'm anxious to see how we'll do."
C.J. Bray, the first baseman for Russell County's 14-year-old team, said playing this district tournament at home was a help but that the Somerset-Pulaski team was a tough bunch that beat them in last year's best-of-three series at Somerset.
"We want to get some revenge on them after they beat us last year," he said. Bray's team won the first game of the best-of-three series, 9-2, on Monday behind a complete game from pitcher Caleb Russell and then finished off Somerset with a 15-13 marathon win on Tuesday, taking the district title and moving on to the state Babe Ruth tournament in Lexington on July 16.
David Hargis, the Somerset-Pulaski 14-year-old team's coach, said he and his team have been warmly greeted in Russell County.
"They have been a good host to us and we appreciate that," he said.
He said his team featured players from three different middle schools in neighboring Pulaski County, Northern Pulaski Middle, Southern Pulaski Middle and Meece Middle.
"Many players on our team competed against one another at that level and now they've had to come together and co-exist on the same team," he said. "That's the best thing about Babe Ruth ... they all get to come together to play summer ball and make friends they normally wouldn't have."
Hargis, who said that the Babe Ruth program had only started back in Pulaski County two years ago after being discontinued in the late 80s, said it was good to blend his players together and watch them bond as a team.
"They'll make friends for life doing this," he said. "That's what its all about."
The Babe Ruth tournaments continue this week at Laker Field on the campus of the Russell County High School. For times of the upcoming games, see the Times Journal Sports Zone in this week's edition.