After battling through to the state championship game, Johnson City American Blue had plenty to be proud of — and a clear goal in mind for 2012.
The 9-10 year-old Little League All-Star team went undefeated through the zone and district and then won three state tournament games, putting it one win away from the title. However, Goodlettsville came out of the losers’ bracket to defeat JC American Blue twice over the weekend in Dandridge.
The Nashville-area team earned the title, but the Johnson City squad accomplished a first. It was the first American League team to reach the state title game, said manager Randy Miller.
“Being state runner-up is not a bad thing,” said Miller. “We carried 11 players and I told them they were 11 of the best 25 players in the state of Tennessee.
“They were thinking the only thing people would remember is they lost the state championship game. But they need to take heart in what happened to (Science Hill standout and Toronto Blue Jays draftee) Daniel Norris at the (10-under) state tournament. His team finished runner-up and look where he is now.”
Miller said his players can come back and make a title run as 11-year-olds next year.
“Their run through the zone and district was flawless,” said Miller. “We plan to be back together again next year and this time bring the state title back to Johnson City as the 11-year-old All-Stars.”
A state title this year would have put the team in the regional tournament, a place Miller said the confident bunch expected to be. However, a 14-4 loss on Friday night chipped away at some of that confidence, and a 12-1 loss on Saturday morning ended the impressive run.
JC American went 8-0 in all tournaments before the championship round losses to Goodlettsville.
“Their pitching was very outstanding, to be honest,” said Miller. “I think we were the best team out there, but it was just one of those things. We just couldn’t get it done. The pitchers struggled to throw strikes and the bats just died.”
Despite the struggles at the end, Miller said the effort and attitude shined through.
“The character of the kids and their families was amazing,” said Miller. “They came together as a group. They had known each other at the lower levels, and it was just a perfect fit. It was a great collection that filled all of the gaps, just some very talented 10-year-olds.
“I’ve coached 23 years and I’ve never seen a group of 10-year-olds who were so knowledgeable and as determined to learn as these guys. They were very coachable and fun to watch.”
The deep pitching staff was led by David Bryant. He was followed by Bailey Burkes, Andrew Miller, Zach Copenhaver and Carter Pollock.
Center fielder Jonah Miller was a key defensive player, and the rest of team — clean-up hitter Tommy Kolb, nine-year-old Zach Rice, Chance Hall, Kolten Keller and Drew Honeycutt — provided plenty of hitting and defense.
Before the championship game losses, JC American outscored its opponents 33-9 in the state tournament — and 77-20 counting the zone and district.
Bryant clubbed four state tournament homers while Burkes hit two. Pollock and Copenhaver also connected.
Miller said he got a lot of help along the way from three assistant coaches: Ron Dempsey, Billy Burkes and Mike White.
Competitors along the way included teams from Knoxville, Morristown, Tullahoma, Carter County and Unicoi County.