The North Macon 8-under all-stars had been dominating the field in the USSSA All-Star World Series held in Gulfport, Mississippi, last weekend before the only other Georgia team, the Pike County Pirates, made things a bit interesting.
After North Macon rallied from a 6-0 deficit to defeat Pike County in the semifinals, Pike County battled back through the losers bracket to get another chance at North Macon. And even though Pike beat North Macon handily, 15-7 in the first game, it couldnt repeat the feat.
North Macon rolled to a 9-1 win to claim the championship.
We knew this wouldnt be easy because there were some very strong teams in this tournament, said Jason Buckner, the manager of the North Macon team. We were in a position that they had to beat us twice in a row, and after the loss, we just talked to them about being in the exact same position that we were in in the sub-state and state tournaments. We felt like we were prepared to come out and play well in the last game.
The managers message was accurate as North Macon came out in the championship game and did exactly what it does best: play defense. Thanks to excellent plays by B.J. Hughes and Lucas Buckner, North Macon escaped the first inning without giving up a run.
That was a key moment right off the bat, said Buckner, whose team only gave up a little more than four runs per game for the entire tournament. We were very fired up at the start of the game and ready to play, and after we held them, our confidence level was sky high.
North Macon scored five runs in its half of the first and then played superb defense the entire game, holding Pike County to only one run over four innings. The lead was 8-1 heading into the bottom of the fourth, with a great chance to put in effect the mercy rule, which in USSSA is eight runs after four innings. The locals made that happen as Hayes Bryant led off with a double and scored on a Cody Strandmark single to claim the championship.
Its been an unbelievable summer, Buckner said. The coaching staff knew this was a special group, but we never imagined that we were good enough to win it all. This is a team that overcame adversity and always played hard until the last out.
Buckner thought the key to the tournament was the comeback in the semifinal game.
We gave up six runs in the first and then shut them out the rest of the way, Buckner said. We had so many great defensive plays, but Wills Handberry made a play in the outfield that was ESPN worthy, and right after that, we scored five runs. We had so many kids step up and make plays for us.
The other North Macon teams also fared well as the 6-under team finished second, losing 20-19 in the championship game. The 6-under team ended the season with a 25-3 record. The 12-under team was undefeated heading to the semifinals, but lost to Louisiana and Mississippi to finish third.