MILDRED — It was wild. It was crazy. It was Blooming Grove bedlam.
And that’s putting it mildly.
Imagine a pack of 8-year-olds jumping and screaming and storming the plate all at once, leaping toward the heavens in joy.
And the kid who jumped the highest? That was Melvin Watkins — the team’s coach.
But you wouldn’t have known it Thursday night when Watkins and his kids won the 8-and-under machine pitch district title at Mildred, where they scored seven runs in the top of the sixth and final inning to put away the Canton Rangers, 25-17.
Machine pitch has a seven-run per inning limit and the Lions took an 18-17 lead into the top of the sixth, so once they reached 25 the game was over.
They arrived in style.
The Lions scored four runs with only one out and loaded the bases for Elijah Rios, who ended the game with a bases-clearing drive. Rios would have had a grand slam walk-off, but even though he scored, the run didn’t count.
No one cared.
The Blooming Grove kids went crazy in a wild celebration at the plate. No one jumped higher than Watkins, who led the charge to the plate to greet Rios as bedlam in Blooming Grove took over the diamond.
“I was so excited I hyperventilated. I had to grab a hat and breath into it,’’ said Watkins, who ran to the plate jumping and leaping for joy. “This is awesome, just awesome.’’
He felt that way about the victory and his kids.
“These kids have been together since they were 4,’’ he said. “And this is fourth trip to state in five years, and our third in a row.’’
But this one is special.
“They are the most awesome team I’ve ever coached,’’ Watkins said. “They are the cardiac kids. They will drive you up the wall. I’ve been coaching for 30 years, and this is my best team.’’
Six kids have been together for the entire five-year run with Watkins. They’re not the dirty dozen (although they do get dirty, diving and running hard and sliding like there’s no tomorrow).
Ya gotta love em. They will slide right into your heart.
Call them the Hustling Half-dozen.
The six core kids are Kelton Bell, who had two hits and made some remarkable plays at third, Gabrial Watkins, who had three hits and looked like Roberto Alomar at second base during the entire tournament, Garris Goff, who played the infield and outfield and had four hits in the title game, shortstop Devon Hood, who had three hits including a huge two-run double in the sixth inning, catcher Camden Gorbet, who had four hits, including a single to lead off the sixth, and Rios, who played first base like he was born to be there and then belted out four hits against Canton, including the game-winner.
But this win belonged to everyone. Brayden Harwell, who had a monster game Wednesday, driving in five runs, had two more hits in the title game. Timmy Hamilton had four hits, including an RBI double in the sixth. Adrian Batson had three hits and a big base hit in the sixth, and Brody Boyd had three hits and scored three runs.
Canton had beaten Blooming Grove, 21-19, in a wild game Wednesday to force the title game showdown, and the kids from Blooming Grove bounced back with an impressive win to advance to the state tournament in Brownwood.
They trailed 8-4 and 14-10 before taking over with a five-run fourth inning and holding Canton scoreless (a rare feat in machine pitch) in the bottom of the fourth as Bell made two brilliant plays at third and Rios ended the inning with a highlight play, forcing the runner at second base with a laser throw to Watkins.
The Lions added three in the fifth and held on to a one-run lead heading into the final inning.
Coach Watkins told his kids if they scored seven runs Canton wouldn’t get a chance to bat, and they came through.
“We told them that we don’t want to play defense again,’’ Watkins said. “When we got to the top of our lineup and didn’t have any outs I knew we were going to get the seven runs.’’
Watkins had nothing but praise for the Canton kids, who were led by Graham Fabri, who had three hits, including a homer, Rex Baldwin, who had two hits and a homer, and Andrew Huddle, who also hit a home run.
“That is the best team we have ever played,’’ Watkins said. “They were fighters and their coaches were a class act.’’
Watkins, who was helped by coaches Brett Bell and Trevor Boyd, was soaked with the celebration water barrel dumping, but he was so happy he didn’t care.
His kids embraced each other and the moment, dancing on the diamond in jubilation, and literally dancing when the PA started playing “The Cha Cha Slide.’’
They laughed and danced and laughed some more.
And then coach Watkins joined them.
It was quite a sight, all those 8-year-olds dancing on the diamond — including the kid who is 55.
MILDRED — It was wild. It was crazy. It was Blooming Grove bedlam.
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