After not having to play a district tournament, the Martinez-Evans Little League Senior League baseball team quickly passed its first step.
Playing host to the 2014 Georgia Little League Senior League Baseball State Championship at Evans High School, the MELL team split its two games on Saturday but defended its 2013 state title with a resounding 7-1 win over Hart County on Sunday.
Three games in two days in 90-degree heat was just one of the reasons manager Charlie May thought the team didn’t excessively celebrate its win when pitcher Tyler Avret recorded his only strikeout of the game for the final out.
“Our goal was to get to the next level, which is the southeast region, this was just another link in the chain,” May said.
MELL, which advanced all the way to the 2013 Senior League World Series semifinals, will next head to Safety Harbor, Fla., on Saturday, Aug. 2, in defense of its 2013 Southeast Regional title.
In the three-team tournament beginning Saturday, Hart County beat West Point 5-4. MELL beat Hart County 10-4 and then lost to West Point 1-0. With the three teams splitting, it came down to a runs-allowed ratio, which MELL won. With head-to-head the next determiner, West Point was the odd man out.
“The rule was applied correctly and fairly,” said Tom Phillippo, the District 6 assistant district administrator. “The problem is the rules are complicated and convoluted and it’s hard to understand them sometimes.”
In both games against Hart County, MELL catcher Jose Nogueras was the team’s offensive powerhouse. Saturday, he had doubles in the sixth and seventh innings, driving in four runs as MELL scored all 10 runs in the final two stanzas.
Avret pitched three scoreless innings, Thomas Murphy allowed one run in two innings of work while getting the win, Austin Matthews pitched 12/3 innings before Daniel Lee came on to record the game’s final out.
Sunday, MELL, playing as the visitors, jumped out to a 4-0 lead and never looked back.
Lee led off with a single, Elliott Melton walked and Lee scored as Hart County threw away a Matthews sacrifice bunt attempt. Nogueras then drove in Melton and Matthews on a ground rule double over the left-field fence.
“It was the same thing just like yesterday,” said Nogueras. “I was looking to hit a good pitch and I did, and it felt pretty good coming off the bat.”
Nogueras also singled in the sixth inning, hustling down the line to beat the throw on what was supposed to be a sacrifice bunt.
Staked to the lead, Avret scattered seven singles and turned things over to the defense after an error led to a Hart County unearned run in the bottom of the first.
Shortstop Elliott Melton snagged a line drive up the middle for the final out of the second inning with Hart County threatening with two runners on; third baseman Matthews started a 5-4-3 double play to end the third and then they got the sequence of the tournament in the fourth.
With the bases loaded and one out, Matthews fielded a tough grounder and from his knees threw to Nogueras for the force-out at the plate. Nogueras threw to first baseman Elyssa Melton to try to complete the double play but the runner was ruled safe. The alert Melton then threw back home to Nogueras to nail the runner, who was trying to score from second on the play.
“Team defense was outstanding, Austin Matthews played a tremendous third base and he was really up for the challenge,” said May, who also had high praise for Elyssa Melton. MELL added a run in the sixth inning as Isaiah Davila got Matthews home from third on a suicide-squeeze play. Elyssa Melton singled to start the seventh and came home on Lee’s double and Lee eventually scored from third on a balk.
In post-tournament awards, Elliott Melton and Lee were named gold glove recipients.