Bullard Baseball and Softball Association now has its first ever World Series trophy in its trophy case thanks to the success of the organization’s 9U All-Stars Baseball team on the field this season.
The team clinched the World Series title at the Dixie Youth Region III World Series, held Friday through Sunday, July 21-23, in Ruston, La., putting together an impressive undefeated streak throughout the tournament to claim the trophy.
The trip to the World Series for the Bullard 9U All-Stars Baseball team was a chance of redemption, as many of the team’s members were on the roster for the Bullard 8U team that advanced to the 2016 World Series of Dixie Baseball in Laurel, Miss., an event that the team was knocked out of after achieving a 2-2 record.
“A lot of the kids on our team this year have played together for about the last three years and were also a part of the 8U team that made it to the World Series last year,” said Davy Rigsby, Bullard 8U All-Stars Baseball head coach. “We knew we had a really good chance to do something special with these kids this season.”
Members of the Bullard 9U All-Star baseball team are Luke Alexander, Hayes Cowart, Cade Craig, JP Gardner, Jonah Hunter, Atley Jones, Riley Park, Ty Rigsby, Bryce Roberts, and Gabe Tatum. Serving as the team’s coaches are Rigsby, Glen Cowart, and Shayne Tatum.
This year, the Bullard 9U All-Star baseball team swung the bats well throughout the entire season, completing the season with an undefeated first place finish in District play, allowing them to advance to the South Region State Tournament and onto the World Series.
According to Rigsby, the team’s players and coaches came up with several goals throughout the All-Stars season, with the largest goal being to get the team back to the national tournament .
“During our very first practice as an All-Stars team, we sat every kid down together and came up with a list of goals for the season,” said Rigsby. “Last year, as well as this year, our goal was to win the District tournament, which we accomplished in Kilgore. Our second goal was to win the State tournament in Center, which we were able to do, as well. The big goal for this team was to get them back to the World Series, and I challenged them to fight for the title and not to settle for just making it and participating, to which they all said they wanted to bring the trophy home.”
Rigby said the thought of going all the way and winning the World Series first came to him after the team’s lone loss during their time at the State tournament.
“When we were in Center playing in our state tournament, we won our first three games handily by the 10-run rule,” said Rigsby. “In our fourth game at State, we played a team from Texarkana, which ended up being the worst game we’ve played as an All-Stars team, by far, and we lost 6-1. With our team this year, they’re so competitive that it’s one of the worst things in the world to them if we lose. I told them after the loss that they would have to step up and do something special, which each player did and we won three more games to advance to the World Series, including that same Texarkana twice by a score of 17-2 both games. I can tell you that was definitely the turning point of our All-Stars season. The boys didn’t like the feeling of losing, but they were able to learn something from it and didn’t lose another game throughout the rest of the season.”
During the World Series, the team began with matchups in pool play on Friday, claiming their first victory of the event against the team from Cleveland, Miss., 9-7.
In their second contest of the World Series, Bullard faced off against the nearby team from Monroe, La., which proved to be no match for the strong play of Bullard, as the Bullard team routed Monroe, 8-1.
Pool play for Bullard continued on Saturday, with the team taking on a team from Pineville, La. in their first battle of the day. Bullard was able to crank out several key at-bats, while using strong pitching and defensive plays to take an 11-1 victory and continue to advance.
The final pool play contest for Bullard was against a team representing Searcy, Ark. on Saturday, in which Bullard was able to gain the upper hand and use their strong bats to lead the way to a 9-4 victory.
Thanks to their powerful performance in pool play, the Bullard 9U All-Stars came out of pool play and into the final rounds of the World Series as the top seeded team.
“I knew the boys would not be satisfied with just getting to the World Series; they wanted to win it all,” said Rigsby. “We were able to start strong in pool play and be the top seed. Our coaches were encouraging the team to keep doing the work necessary and keep battling, which they did. The closest game ended up being our first game of pool play against the team from Mississippi, which turned out to be a back-and-fourth game and we were able to hold on until the very end. After that, the boys’ hard work allowed them to dominate throughout the rest of the tournament.”
On Sunday, the Bullard sluggers compete in the World Series semifinal matchup against the host team Ruston, La. Bullard was able to break out the big bats and find a clear path to home plate, winning the contest, 13-8, punching their ticket to the World Series finals.
“There was a lot of nervousness when we went into the semifinal game against the Louisiana State Champions from Ruston,” said Rigsby. “There was a little bit of history between the two teams because the team from Ruston was the team that knocked Bullard out of the World Series last year. We started the semifinal game really well and were able to jump on them early, but then we had to fight our way back.”
With the win in the semifinals against Ruston, the Bullard team found itself in the World Series title game against the Mississippi State Champion team from Columbia, Miss. According to Rigsby, a weather delay helped to keep the boys in a relaxed mood, but also ready to show the world what they could do on the diamond.
“Going into the World Series Championship game, there was a bit of a delay because of weather, and they boys were really loose, telling jokes and having fun with one another,” said Rigsby. “After the delay, they went out there and in the first inning, we had a big momentum shift when our right fielder made a great play by fielding a single to first base on a line and stopped the other team from scoring. Then, we had our turn at the plate in the first inning and scored six runs; our boys were really pumped up and our fans were going crazy.”
For the final out of the championship contest, the Bullard squad relied solely on the pitching arm of Jonah Hunter, who had to battle the batter for the strikeout to secure the title and trophy for Bullard.
“It was like Jonah had ice water in his veins,” said Rigsby. “It was such a huge moment, but the pressure did not get to him at all. The batter worked it to a full count and fouled two balls off. However, on the final pitch, Jonah just blew it by the kid and struck him out swinging. The kids and the coaches were throwing their hats and gloves up in the air and celebrating on the mound together; it was one of the most special things I’ve experienced.”
As for the title to cap off the 2017 baseball season, Rigsby said the hard work and determination of the team during both practices and games helped to lead the team to being the top team at the tournament.
“The theme that we kept reiterating to the boys throughout the World Series is that there was no other team at the World Series that put in as much work and was more prepared than us,” said Rigsby. “We practiced three times a week in the 95 degree or higher heat, and the boys really worked their tails off. It’s great to be the champions and bring home the first World Series trophy in the history of Bullard Baseball and Softball Association, and I hope the Bullard community is as proud of these kids as their parents and coaches are. It’s been a remarkable season and hopefully we’ll be able to bring home more World Series titles to Bullard in the future.”