By T. Scott Boatright
The Ruston 9U Dixie All-Star baseball team knew they were underdogs heading into the Dixie youth Baseball World Series in Center, Texas.
But that took nothing away from the effort the players gave and the fun they had.
After struggling through a 1-3 record in pool play, the Ruston All-Stars dominated in their first elimination game before falling in semifinals action to Ellisville, Mississippi for a third-place finish.
The team was led by head coach Chris Shelton and assistants Riley Rushing and Matt Pullin. Ruston’s 9U All-Stars were Chance Butler, Jessie Ford, Matthew Hyde, Brody Jemerson, Apollo Odom, Cooper Powell, Sam Pullin, Riley Rushing, Chris Shelton, Raiden Underwood, Kingston Venzant and Ezekiel Wilson.
This year’s Ruston Dixie Youth All-Star team was drawn from the four 9U teams in the league.
“Then they were just kind of thrown together, but that’s the way it works,” Matt Pullin said. “Some of them were on last year’s Nashville Dixie World Series 8U team. We picked up a couple of new guys this year but I guess the whole group really didn’t play together until the St. Jude’s Warm-Up Tournament.
“And then we played district and finished second. That got us to Shreveport (for the state regionals). Shreveport beat us in the finals, and then we went to state.”
At state, the Ruston 9U All-Stars dominated South Sabine 14-4 to reach the Dixie World Series.
“That exceeded my expectations right there – the fact that earned the World Series berth,” Pullin said. “So then I thought, OK, we’ll do OK. But these kids are athletes. They’re resilient. And they gave it all every step of the way. They turned into good young baseball players.”
The team got off to a slow start in the World Series before rallying for some late excitement.
“We ended up going 1-3 in pool play, so we were the third-seed, so we drew the second seed out of the other pool, which was Prattville, Alabama,” Pullin said. “I had watched those kids play before. They play together year round. I think about 75% play travel ball together, so I knew we had a big challenge ahead.
“But we ended up playing really well and beat Prattville by one run and advanced to Sunday’s semifinal against Ellisville. The boys played great, but a few errors here and there compounded on us and they beat us 14-4 with the 10-run rule in the fourth inning. They probably would have won anyway, but without those errors I think it would have been something like 7-5 instead of 10-4.”
The Ruston All-Stars also faced another opponent in Mother Nature.
“It was really hot … above 100 degrees on three out of the four days we played,” Pullin said. “The Opening Ceremonies were held on turf – the fields were natural grass, which helped. But that turf was just so hot during the Opening Ceremonies.
“And we played a lot of really good teams. I’m talking about teams with a lot more experience playing with each. So I’m proud of the way we played and reaching the semifinals and finishing third is something we are all proud about.”
Considering it was a second-straight Dixie World Series for a number of this year’s Ruston 9U All-Stars, Pullin said he hopes a foundation is only getting stronger.
“It was a great experience for the players going out of state to play,” Pullin said. “And they played against teams from four other states.
“And it’s one more time they’ve gone to nationals. That’s a great experience hopefully building future team experience. It was a great time for all of the players, and that’s all that really matters.”