STAFFORD, Va. — “Survive and advance. Going into today, everybody’s record is 0-0.”
Laurinburg Optimist 11U All-Stars coach Scott Sellers, who guided the team to a quarterfinal berth in the 2015 Babe Ruth Southeast Regional Tournament, said the team has to quickly put its two losses in pool play behind them as they prepare to face Glen Allen (Virginia) for a spot in the semifinals.
Optimist finished 2-2 during pool play, capping the first round of games with a 8-2 win over Hendersonville (Tennessee) Friday morning.
Jackson Sellers, Bryant Grubbs and Ian Powell each recorded two hits in the victory.
Laurinburg, the eastern North Carolina state champions, and East Rowan, the western North Carolina runner-ups, advanced out of the Southern Division in the National bracket and are a part of the eight-team quarterfinal round.
The top two teams from the Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western Division advanced to the regional quarterfinals, and the American and National bracket winner will meet in the championship game at 4 p.m. Sunday.
“Any time you survive and you advance, that’s another day so we’re excited to play another day knowing at least in the southeast regional we’re one of the top eight teams,” Sellers said.
Laurinburg got off to a rocky start during the early stages of the tournament, falling to East Rowan twice in two days. But they salvaged a win against Hendersonville on Wednesday and tacked on another against the Tennessee program Friday to finish second in the three-team division.
East Rowan defeated Laurinburg 5-1 Wednesday and 12-4 Thursday, and Sellers acknowledged their pitching seemed to rattle the Optimist batters.
“When we played them both times, they’ve thrown a junk-ball pitcher and we’re a fastball hitting team,” Sellers said. “It’s been the tale of two games. When we played Hendersonville, that’s what they have — kids that throw fastballs and we’re able to catch up and hit them and East Rowan’s got us out on our front foot.”
Against Hendersonville, Laurinburg scored 20 runs in two games. Batters like Grubbs and Sellers consistently made contact, and the former hit a game-clinching grand slam in the 12-0 win Wednesday. Grubbs also was superb on the mound, tossing a no-hitter and was a catcher’s interference away from a perfect game.
Pitchers have gone the distance in both of Laurinburg’s wins, and in their losses Sellers has had to use multiple arms. Chandler Miller recorded a complete game in Friday’s victory.
Grubbs is scheduled to start today’s quarterfinal game against Glen Allen, and Sellers said he is confident his team can compete with the Virginia state champions.
“Any time he toes the mound, as strong as a performance as he had the other night, I feel good about our chances,” he said. “We just need to score some runs to help him out on that end and we’ve had two games that we’ve scored plenty of runs and two games we didn’t so we need to give him some run support.”
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.