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July 3, 2014

All-Stars to play in state tourney

TIFTON — This weekend, the area will be celebrating Independence Day. Next weekend, it may be a state baseball title. The Tift County All-Stars are to play in the Georgia Recreation and Park Association state junior Class B tournament at Brunswick beginning Wednesday.

The All-Stars play their first game that afternoon at 4:30 p.m. against Wayne County at North Glynn Recreation Complex field three. They are guaranteed at least one night and two games on the coast in the double elimination tourney. The championship game is Saturday.

"We don't know a whole lot about Wayne," admitted Mike Stone, who coaches the team. He has a tremendous amount of confidence in the All-Stars, who he said continue the recent trend of excellence in Tift County baseball.

Stone, who coached Tim Pest Control during the regular season, said he was selected to lead the All-Stars after his team won the Tift County Recreation Department title.

"There are good teams in the rec department," he said. The All-Stars are assembled from the individual teams that make up the county. Though it might seem hard to get players from so many different squads, Stone said it had not been a problem.

"It has been easy to put the team together," he said. One of the big reasons is familiarity. "Almost everyone has played together in the past."

He should also be well familiar with the lineup. Stone said he had been coaching 10 years, starting when his son, Beau, was in T-ball. This will be Beau's last year playing for him, as well as the final rec season for several of the team, he said.

He expects the squad to be at full strength, as he said some players were coming back from injury, including Beau. "We look forward to having them back," he said.

Stone figures pitching as the one of the team's key assets. Michael Harvin, Trey Barfield and Patrick Reed among their best moundsmen.

Of course, hitting has been necessary for them, too. Rodney Rucker is in that role and Stone had high praise for him. "He's excellent," he said. "I couldn't have anyone better." William Baldree and Michael Harvin are also assistants.

The All-Stars advanced to state after winning their region at Moultrie last week. After defeating Thomasville in the opener, they fell into the loser's bracket after being defeated, 10-3, by Grady County. They fought their way through the bracket with another win over Thomasville, then had to beat Grady twice. Two slugfests ensued, Tift winning 16-13 and 11-10, the latter for the championship.

"It was a real good feeling," said Stone on winning the title. He believes it was the All-Stars' first regional championship in about six years.

With a win over Wayne, they face either Lyons or Liberty County. The same holds true if they lose. Two losses would knock them out. The original bracket posted on Quick Scores had Douglas instead of Liberty County, but that was a mistake, according to Glynn County Recreation and Parks Department's program manager, Steve Mellinger.

If they make it out of that part of the bracket, there are other teams to contend with, including a possibility of playing their hosts, Glynn County. Glynn is paired with Vidalia in the opening round, with the winner squaring off against Gilmer County.

Summertime and a trip to the coast do not always bring up thoughts of baseball. Stone said there were plans for that.

"(We're) going to have fun and play ball," he said, but added they were also going to the beach.

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