Corsicana Bulldogs head coach Mike Russell is no stranger to a pair of fellow District 9 Freshman Tournament participants in Bob Pritchett’s Navarro Bulldogs and Bud Renfro’s Dawson Bulldogs.

“Dawson and Mildred we know about,” said Russell, whose team took the Corsicana Angels to the wire in Athens last July before falling in a second district championship game. “We’ve seen them play. Mildred is loaded. They have six that play select ball.

“Dawson has one of the best overall pitchers in Hunter Melton. They have other kids, but Hunter is special. ... I think Mildred has the deepest pitching. They have four real good pitchers. I think Mildred ought to be the odds-on favorite (this week).”

Renfro has the same respect for the Corsicana Bulldogs (15-0) — the team his squad will face 5:30 p.m. Monday in Athens in the opening round. The Corsicana Giants, the Corsicana runner-up, meet the Kemp Jackets, the Tri-Cities American League runner-up, 8 p.m. Monday.

Navarro (14-1), the Richland-Chambers champion, has a first-round bye and will meet the Mabank Redhawks-Athens Rangers victor 8 p.m. Tuesday. The Frankston Orioles (Cedar Creek winner), Kemp A’s (Tri-Cities National League champion) and Frankston Yankees (Cedar Creek runner-up) also have byes in the 12-team double-elimination tournament.

The Athens Red Sox and Mabank Bulldogs round out the tourney field.

Renfro is no stranger to district tournaments, having led the Dawson Bulldogs to the District 8 Senior Midget title game in 2004, where they lost to the Corsicana Cubs.

“I think all three of us have a good shot,” said Renfro, referring to the local Bulldog squads. “We usually hold our own there (at the district tournament). Depth of pitching (will be key). We got a lot of kids that can pitch.

“Experience (will be key). They have played together for a while. ... If our pitching holds up, we’ll be all right. Whoever loses the first one will have a tough road.”

Indeed. If a team falls in the first round, it would have to win three games on Thursday and another on Friday just to get back to the championship game. Thus, solid pitching will be a priority in the five-day tournament.

“Good pitching and good defense (will be key),” Pritchett said. “It was huge getting a bye (in the first round). We picked up two players, but none of them were pitchers.”

The Corsicana Bulldogs build around their defense and pitching on an annual basis, Russell said. The Bulldogs return seven players from last year’s squad, and the addition of players such as Holden Grounds — who played on the aforementioned Cubs team that went to state in 2004 and won it all in 2005 — bolster the squad.

“(Navarro and Mildred) have a lot of talent,” Russell said. “They have mostly 12-year-olds. We start six 11-year-olds and three 12-year olds. We will probably be one of the younger teams there.”

The first title game is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday with an if-necessary contest slated for 8 p.m. The District 9 winner moves on the state tournament the last week of July in Killeen.

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Chris Smith may be contacted via e-mail at csmith

@corsicanadailysun.com.

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