Dugout photo from the 2017 8- to 10-year-old Tournament of State Champions Championship Game.
By Mike Grizzard
The thrill of celebrating a Tournament of State Champions title in front of a jubilant hometown crowd last summer still has not faded for Derrion Geddis. That doesn’t mean he’s not up for a repeat.
Derrion and nine of his Greenville Tar Heel teammates, who captured the ages 8-10 TOSC last year, teamed up with three newcomers to earn their way back to Elm Street Park by winning District IV and North Carolina state championships. Greenville Tar Heel teams pulled off a historic feat last summer by seizing both TOSC trophies, and this year marks a third straight appearance for a Greenville team in the 9-11 tournament (North State finished as the 2016 runner-up).
Opening ceremonies featuring the eight state champions are set for Friday at Stallings Stadium at Elm Street. Greenville begins pool play at 10 a.m. Saturday against Goodlettsville, Tenn., which is making its seventh appearance in the TOSC, then faces first-time visitors Loudon County, Va., at 12:45 p.m. Sunday and Smyrna, Ga., at 6:15 p.m. Monday.
Derrion, a left-handed slugger and pitcher, is ready.
“It feels good to do it again, two years in a row,” he said during a practice this week at Next Level Training Center. “I want to make history again this year. It would be the first time Greenville won the TOSC two years in a row.
“I’m just glad God blessed us to make it this far. I couldn’t do anything without him, man. He just blessed us to get here.”
Playing at Stallings Stadium at Elm Street Park, the home field during the regular season for Greenville teams, only adds to excitement, Derrion said.
“All your family and everyone you know that couldn’t make it to districts and states can see you right there on your home field,” he said.
Jack West, another returnee from last year's champions, agreed.
“I like being home,” Jack said. “Home turf. I want to go back to back. Repeat."
Manager Brayom Anderson called it “a real privilege” to represent both Greenville and North Carolina deep into the summer, when regular-season rivalries are cast aside.
“To be able to come back and play in front of our home crowd, on our home field, is amazing,” he said. “Greenville is a baseball town. It’s unlike anywhere you go. People know it. They understand baseball, and I think they understand how special this group is this year.
"Once we get to this level to this time of the year, there’s no longer Tar Heel and North State. It’s all Greenville. Everybody cheers for everybody. … That’s the beautiful thing about our fans. North State wants to win as bad as Tar Heel wants to win, but once it’s done, it’s done, and then everybody comes together and is cheering for green and white."
Tar Heel knocked off North State in an impressive run to the district title, outscoring four opponents 58-6 including a pair of shutouts. But the big challenge awaited -- getting out of the state tournament in Wilson where no Greenville had ever claimed a title.
Tar Heel pummeled McDowell County 19-0 and blanked Myers Park Trinity of Charlotte 9-0 before falling to Wilson 4-1. A 10-0 shutout of Myers Park earned Tar Heel another shot at WIlson, and it cashed in with a 10-0 victory then captured the state title with a 5-1 win.
"Our team doesn’t give up easy," Davis Bradley, an infielder and pitcher, said. "We don’t like losing so I think that just puts us one step ahead."
In nine postseason games, Tar Heel has recorded six shutouts scored double figures in seven games. Right-hander James Sawyer has established himself as the shut-down ace of a deep pitching staff that also includes Parker Watson and Ethan Medhus.
"We have strong pitchers lined up behind him to come in," Anderson said. "Our defense is good, and our bats are good. We hit top to bottom. ... Everybody contributes on this team. I think that’s why we’re able to do what we’ve done the last two years.
"This group of kids, last year, we knew was a special group," Anderson said. "They play together a lot. They play travel ball together a lot. They know what each other is capable of doing, and they don’t step on each other’s toes. To have that in a team is really nice, and it allows the team to function as a team. That is one of our sayings is we are one team. It has to be that way. To go this far you have to play together as a team.”
Davis said he hopes they stay together and already has his sights set on next year.
"Last year’s win was really great, but now that we’re approaching the Little League World Series, like next year, we’ve got to start working harder so we can get up there," he said.
Mike Grizzard of Winterville has more than 30 years of experience as a writer for both print and digital publications in the areas of sports, business, news, faith and personal profiles. Contact Mike at 252-916-4206.