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Americus Travelers gearing up for state championship

AMERICUS – The Americus Travelers 14u travel baseball team (13-5-1) is coming off a very successful third-place showing at the Training Legends Fathers’ Day Classic in Alpharetta, GA last weekend. Now, they will be taking another trip back up to the Atlanta area this weekend, as they will be competing in the Training Legends Travel Team Georgia State Championship in Dacula, GA Saturday and Sunday, June 22-23.

While he is pleased with his squad’s performance and the progress they have made in the last few weeks, head coach Tim Estes knows that his club will have to perform even better if they want to take home the state title. They will be going up against the best travel teams in the state. Two of those teams come from the Charlie Culbertson Baseball Academy (CBA). Charlie Culbertson, a current infielder for the Atlanta Braves, has a baseball academy in the Rome/Calhoun area that strives to develop young players. “Both of the CBA teams we’ve seen this year are solid,” Estes said. The Travelers defeated one of the CBA teams in the Fathers’ Day Classic by the score of 8-7.

Estes went on to say that the Georgia Jackets is another youth baseball organization that has been around for about 10-12 years. “Jeff Auterson does a tremendous job of recruiting his players from all over the Metro Atlanta area,” Estes said. “I would predict that they would be one of the strong teams in the tournament.”

Another formidable opponent the Travelers may face in the tournament is the Home Plate Chili Dawgs out of Peachtree City, GA. Their coach, Mike Armour, took the Peachtree City Little League All-Stars to the Little League World Series two years ago. “Many of those players are now part of the Home Plate Chili Dawgs,” Estes said. “Mike is a great coach. He played college baseball at Kennesaw State and always has his teams well prepared.”

Two other teams that the Travelers have already seen are the Cobb Aces and the Acworth Warriors. Estes expects both of these teams to be contenders and to provide stiff competition for his squad should they face them in the state tournament.

According to Estes, the Travelers have three to four players who have hit the ball extremely well this year, but the team hasn’t been able to sustain the offense throughout the entire line up. “To compete for a state and national championship, we need to swing the bat throughout the entire line up,” Estes said. He went on to say that his squad has played solid defense for most of the year. Chase Ledger, a rising freshman who has pitched for Southland Academy’s varsity squad as an eighth grader, is the Travelers’ ace on the mound. “He’s a guy with good velocity. He’s topped out at 81 MPH, which isn’t bad for 14u,” Estes said. “His best asset is his command. He knows how to pitch and usually hits his spots.”

Thomas Ray, Caden King and Jaxson Haire have also put together solid outings on the mound for the Travelers. Estes is also pleased with the development of pitchers Owen Lamb, Tripp Thomas and Landon Knight. “We feel like we need six solid pitchers at the national tournament,” Estes said. “We are deep in pitching when we command the strike zone and pitch to contact.”

Estes went on to say that if his club plans to win both the state and national tournaments, the pitching staff will have to come through in a big way. “It all starts on the mound,” Estes said. “If we can pound the strike zone, then that gets us off to a good start. We need to continue our solid defensive play and everybody needs to get a hit with the bat.”

According to Estes, one trademark of the Americus Travelers baseball program is its emphasis on executing the small-ball game, such as bunting, hit and run and getting good dirt ball reads. “We’ll need to execute in these areas to be able to have a chance to win at this level,” Estes said.

While the buck stops with Estes, he credits his assistant coaches for the success of the Travelers team. “We have great coaches. Jeff Fussell handles our pitchers and Jarrod Wall coaches first base and handles our batting cage work,” Estes said. “These guys not only know the game, they care about these players.” Estes went on to say that the chemistry of the team is extremely high due to the fact that the families of the 11 players on the roster have gelled together really well and have created an all-around family atmosphere.

That family atmosphere that Estes has cultivated has served players like Chase Ledger very well. He has thrived in this atmosphere and enjoys being a part of what Estes has created. “He (Estes) makes us feel as if we are a part of something bigger than ourselves,” Ledger said. “He is also a man of strong morals. After every practice and every game, we always have a team prayer.” Ledger went on to say that Estes has a tremendous knowledge of the game of baseball. In Ledger’s opinion, Estes could be coaching at the college level.

Clearly, Estes has used his knowledge of the game to put together a program that is developing top-notch talent year in and year out. According to the team’s website, www.americustravelers.com, since its inception in the summer of 1995, the Americus Travelers baseball program has been providing opportunities for players in Americus ages 18 and under to get high-level training and coaching so that hopefully, most of them will be able to get scholarships to play baseball in college.

Estes also started the program as an alternative to American Legion Baseball, feeling that players from Americus shouldn’t have to compete for playing time with kids from other counties.

During the last 24 years, the program has grown exponentially and has built a solid reputation on the local, state and national levels. Since 1995, the Travelers have won a total of eight state championships, one national championship (2007) and have made it into the Top 5 of the national rankings six times.

The Travelers will be gunning for their ninth state championship when they travel to Dacula, GA for the Training Legends Travel Team Georgia State Championship this Saturday and Sunday.

Their first game will be on Saturday, June 22, at 4 p.m. against the Charlie Culbertson Blue Team. Their second game in pool play will be later that evening at 8 p.m. against the Charlie Culbertson Red Team. The championship bracket will be played on Sunday, June 23.