STAFFORD, Va. — The Laurinburg Optimist 11U All-Stars experienced plenty of adversity during pool play of the 2015 Babe Ruth Southeast Regional Tournament, but hit their stride once they reached the elimination rounds.
The momentum they built in the quarterfinals and semifinals wasn’t enough to carry them to a championship, however, as Laurinburg was defeated by East Bay (Florida) 13-1 in the title game.
Despite falling short of their ultimate goal, Optimist coach Scott Sellers said he couldn’t be prouder of the way his team performed over the course of the five-day tourney.
“It’s an honor to be put in that position by the Optimist Club and having a front row seat to watch these boys do what they did,” Sellers said. “This is a special group of kids, and having a son on the team and being able to be a part of it tickles me.”
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 victory against the Tennessee program Friday to finish second in the three-team Southern Division and advance to the knockout round.
In Saturday’s quarterfinals, Optimist defeated previously-undefeated Glen Allen 9-4, scoring as many runs in the victory as the Virginia program allowed in three contests during pool play.
“You could watch them in warmups, in between innings, they were a very good team and a well-coached team,” Sellers said.
“That game, we juggled our lineup some and moved some hitters around and I think that self-motivated some kids to do some things. If I have someone swinging a hot stick, I’m not going to leave them at the bottom of the lineup. It paid off.”
Bryant Grubbs earned the win, pitching a complete game with six strikeouts and five hits allowed. Of the four runs he gave up, only one was earned.
Grubbs was also 2-for-4 at the plate, and Walt Bounds notched two hits in as many at-bats.
Laurinburg then played East Rowan in the semis on Sunday — the western North Carolina runner-up easily scored a pair of victories against Optimist during pool play earlier in the week. East Rowan won the first meeting 5-1 on Wednesday, then followed with a 12-4 victory Thursday.
But, as Sellers said, “the third time was the charm” and Laurinburg rolled to a 8-2 win to clinch a spot in the championship game.
“Having lost to East Rowan twice, it was nice to come back and get that win against them,” Sellers said. “We put together some hits and played a little small ball, which negated the off-speed pitcher. We got hits throughout the lineup and that was what was lacking against them our first two games.”
Optimist racked up 10 hits, and seven different runners scored. Grubbs led the way with three hits in four at-bats, Ean Powell had a hit and scored two runs, and Aaron Aycock also made the box score with a hit as well.
Jackson Sellers pitched all six innings, allowing seven hits and two runs. Sellers said the team “played excellent defense,” something Laurinburg failed to do in its previous two outings against East Rowan.
But in the title tilt against East Bay, Laurinburg “ran into a buzz saw,” according to Sellers. Optimist took an early 1-0 advantage, but East Bay responded to scored 13 consecutive runs to win the Southeast Regional championship.
“It was a Florida team, you know what you’re going to get with Florida teams,” Sellers said. “That was the first Florida team we faced in the tournament — unfortunately, it had to happen in the championship game.”
Laurinburg was forced to use three pitchers in the loss. Jackson Sellers paced the offense with two hits in three at-bats, and he scored the lone Optimist run. Lane Roberson also had a successful outing at the dish, going 2-for-2.
The elder Sellers said that while his boys were understandably upset after the defeat, he expects they will fondly look back on this deep tournament run for a long time.
“They’ve got a lot to be proud of,” Sellers said. “As they get older, they’ll appreciate it.”
The 11U All-Stars were the second Laurinburg program to advance to at least the semifinals in the Southeast Regional, the first time in Optimist history that has happened in one season. The 8U All-Stars played in the semifinal round on July 18.
This group of all-stars has recorded 47 wins during their Optimist careers, a feat Sellers said few teams have ever come close to. And though that one final victory eluded them, Sellers mentioned this group made the past week a memorable one.
“It was an awesome week, but a long one on top of that. But I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.