Americus Travelers Baseball Club wraps up 2016 season with 4th-place finish at Grand Slam Event
Published 4:12 pm Wednesday, August 3, 2016
By MICHAEL MURRAY
PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. – The Americus Travelers 16U Baseball Club capped off their 2016 summer season with a bang this past weekend with an appearance in the Grand Slam World Series of Baseball in Panama City, Fla.
The Travelers turned in a 4-2 performance in the prestigious tourney, battling teams from all across the Southeast. The Travelers’ tournament record was good for a fourth-place overall finish in the Grand Slam World Series and left the team with a 16-11-3 record as the curtain closed on the 2016 season. This is the fourth consecutive season that the Americus team has finished the season among the nation’s elite in their respective age division.
The Travelers went blazing into the tournament on July 25, earning a huge 8-0 shut-out win over Game on Clark, based in Lagrange, before taking a 9-1 victory over the Central Alabama Nationals, based in Birmingham, on July 25.
By virtue of going 2-0 and allowing only one run in their initial matches, Americus garnered the number-one seed going into championship play and received a bye in game one.
This set up a rematch of the two teams that organizers believed would be two of the top four teams in the tournament. “I’ve known [Head Coach Tim Estes] and the Americus Travelers for many years,” said Grand Slam President, Larry Thompson. “Anytime the Travelers are in an event you can be assured of two things: (1) They’ll be very good and (2) They will conduct themselves in a respectful manner. The Central Alabama Nationals are much the same way so we expected these two teams to be among the best of the best”.
Following a Central Alabama victory over number-nine seeded Vidalia Baseball Academy, the Travelers soon faced the Nationals once more, earning a 6-5 win.
The Americus-area crew looked to continue their streak on July 29, but met their match in a contest against Game on Mallette, of LaGrange, who dealt the team a 9-1 defeat.
Refusing to let the loss keep the team down, the Travelers faced familiar foes, the Central Alabama Nationals later that afternoon, earning another substantial 8-3 victory.
The Travelers tasted defeat once more in their final contest of the season, an 8-7 brawl against the Jacksonville Juice, that the Travelers dropped, despite out-hitting their opponents 12-7.
The Travelers blazed into their first match of the tourney, opening the scoring in the second frame on an RBI hit off the bat of Aaron Greene. The Americus crew struck again in the following stanza when a wild pitch allowed Cameron Vanlerberghe to complete his round-trip before exploding in the fifth inning to add five more runs to their lead. The Travelers exploited a bases-loaded walk and an error to plate three runners in the fifth before Chance Holloman batted in a pair of runners to leave the local team up 7-0. One last run in the sixth frame clinched the victory for the Travelers, who took the 8-0 victory.
Holloman set the pace for the Travelers in this match, connecting on two hits and bringing in two RBIs. Vanlerberghe and Greene each contributed one RBI to the victory.
Tyler Ross spent five innings on the hill for the Travelers, striking out two opponents, before ceding the mound to Holloman, who closed out the sixth inning.
The Travelers rode this wave of momentum into their second contest of the tourney, plating five runners in the initial frame.
The Travelers scored in the first on RBI hits by Will Lanneau and Greene. An opponent error, a bases-loaded walk, and a walk by Tyler Ross helped the Travelers put the game out of reach before the Nationals’ second round of at-bats.
After adding one more run to their tally in the third, the Travelers would go on to score three more points in the fourth inning. Gavin Paul sparked the rally with a double, which plated Vanlerberghe. A Hollomon hit then brought in both Jarrett Kemp and Paul.
Reid Ragsdale led the team at the plate in this contest, batting three for three in the match-up. Holloman contributed two RBIs to the Travelers’ cause while Lanneau brought in one runner.
Greene pitched three innings of the five-frame contest before Paul came in as relief. Greene fanned three batters before Paul struck out two.
The Travelers connected on nine total hits in the match while holding their opponents to only one.
Three days later, the Travelers returned to the diamond for a rematch with the Central Alabama Nationals, this time earning a much narrower victory.
The rematch lived up to the hype. With the sting of defeat still fresh in their minds, the Nationals hit the field determined to turn the tables on the Americus team in what would become a ten-inning baseball marathon.
After an uneventful first frame, the Travelers broke the seal when a Lanneau hit started the offense off. Later, a hit from Hollomon advanced Lanneau, who was later able to cross home plate.
The Nationals enjoyed a brief lead after adding two runs in the top of the fourth, but the Travelers quickly negated their opponents’ advantage with a run of their own in the bottom of the stanza. The teams traded blows in the fifth and ninth frames with the Travelers scoring in the fifth on a sacrifice fly by Paul. Later, they Americus team scored one in the ninth on a sacrifice fly by Lanneau.
Americus pulled ahead for good in the tenth via a two-run double by Vanlerberghe that plated Ross and Kemp, leaving the Travelers up 6-5 at the game’s conclusion.
Vanlerberghe contributed two RBIs on a pair of hits to help lead the team to victory.
Greene and Will Kelley split hurling duties in the game, with Greene striking out eight batters and Kelley dispatching three. Ross pitched the final inning for the Travelers.
After dishing out three significant defeats, the Travelers returned to action on July 29 to take on Game on Mallette, who would eventually go to win the tournament championship.
Mallette plated two runners in the second stanza, but the Travelers cut their lead in half in the bottom of the frame with a double off Greene’s bat that plated Holloman.
Mallette enjoyed a four-run fourth inning and added three more in the fifth to claim the 9-1 victory.
Holloman collected two hits in the match, with Greene contributing the team’s sole RBI.
Paul pitched all but one out of the match, sending a game-high three batters directly back to the dugout.
Following their first loss of the tourney, the Travelers returned to the diamond to deal yet more destruction to the Central Alabama Nationals in the form of an 8-3 defeat.
Central Alabama enjoyed a two-point lead in the initial inning after bringing two runners home, but the Travelers made short work of that in the bottom of the second stanza. Six Travelers were plated in the second via an RBI double by Greene, a sacrifice fly by Paul, and three hits. Americus added single runs in both the fourth and sixth frames to bring the winning team’s advantage to 8-3 by the final pitch.
Kelley set the pace for the winners, batting three for three, followed by Ross and Holloman, who each collected two hits. Kemp and Greene each tacked on a pair of RBIs to the team’s impressive stats in the victory.
Ross went the distance for the Travelers, doing six innings worth of work on the hill. In total, the Travelers out-batted their foes 15-4.
For their final match-up of the tournament and the season, the Travelers returned to the field later that afternoon to take on the Jacksonville Juice in the final-four round.
The Travelers amassed a commanding 4-1 lead over the first two innings when a Kemp single started things off, followed by the hot hitting of Will Lang, Greene, and Kelley. An error allowed Kemp to advance to second before a Vanlerberghe double pushed him across the plate. Vanlerberghe, in turn, scored on a groundout by Paul. In the second frame, two more Travelers crossed home plate via RBI hits by Kemp and Kelley.
A Jacksonville rally in the third frame, however, netted the opposing team seven runs, giving Jacksonville a comfortable lead. The Travelers added one more run in the bottom of the frame before sparking a comeback rally of their own in the fifth stanza. Americus plated a pair of runners in the fifth, with an RBI hit by Greene and a sacrifice fly by Lanneau, launching the comeback but the team was stopped short of a tie.
Down 8-7 in the top of the seventh inning, catcher, Jarrod Wall, threw out an attempted steal at second base followed by an outstanding defensive play at second base by Lanneau to kill the Juice rally and send the game to the bottom of the seventh. The Travelers managed to load the bases with two outs when Kemp hit a hard ground ball to third base, sentencing the Americus crew to the 8-7 loss and eliminating the Travelers from the tournament.
Kemp and Greene helped propel the team to within comeback range with three hits apiece. Greene added two RBIs to the Travelers’ stats.
Kelley and Holloman split pitching duties in the match, each striking out one batter.
The Travelers out-hit the Juice 12-7 in the contest.
“Our kids played great baseball this week and gave maximum effort” said Estes. “I’m proud that we were able to compete at such a high level”.
“This team was started as a 13-and-under team in 2013 and has advanced one age division each season for the past four summers,” Estes continued. “The original goal of the team was to help each player improve in their skills to the point that they could help their high school teams. That goal has been accomplished and now many of the players look toward the possibility of playing at the college level. Coach Fussell and I have high hopes that several of our players will have the opportunity to play in college … We feel confident that we have exposed them to several schools in the Southeast and believe a few of them will advance. However, what makes this group so special is the relationships that they build with each other and that we build with the families. That is rare at the highest levels of travel baseball, but we have been able to maintain that closeness and that’s what I’m most proud of with this team”.
Estes went on to say that the club’s future plans are to continue with this same group for one more season and then to begin the cycle again with another group of 12-13 year olds the following season. Americus Travelers Baseball currently features teams in the 13U, 14U, 15U and 16U age divisions. Plans are already in the works to add a new team in 2017 and have 13U-17U teams represented in the organization.