By REID TUCKER
Freeport Middle School’s baseball team claimed the 2012 Panhandle Conference Championship after winning three straight games against the top three teams in the league.
The Bulldogs walked all over Vernon with a decisive 15-7 win to start off the streak on Tuesday, April 3, then won a close 7-6 contest against host Grand Ridge before felling Marianna 12-11 the following Friday to take the 2012 title. Freeport finished the season 14-6, with only two of those losses coming by more than one-run deficit.
Freeport coach Dan Bump called the run to the championship “a complete team effort” from his young team, which has just four eighth-graders on the roster.
“Everybody contributed something,” he said. “We played really solid games. We didn’t make many errors at all. We just played fundamentally sound baseball. This is a great way to cap off a great season. Things really came together for us in the end.”
Freeport was first to score in the game, but Marianna added two runs in its first at-bat. Freeport scored big in the second inning, accumulating seven runs, and extended the lead by two in the third while the other ballclub, also called the Bulldogs, trailed by four runs through the bottom of the sixth. Marianna rallied back late in the game to make it 11-all in the bottom of the inning, but Freeport took the win when its last batter, Cody Autrey, was walked in for the go-ahead run.
Bump said the key to the Bulldogs’ victory in the six-team tournament was his team’s four pitchers, Dillon Bates, Hagen Brown, Max Dyell and Bailey Miller, all of whom played in the final game of the championship series.
“I told our kids that if we could get to the Friday game (against Marianna), I’d put our four arms against any group of pitchers any other team in the conference had,” Bump said. “All four of them threw in the game and did really well, and I didn’t expect anything else.”
Miller pitched for 2 2/3 innings, getting three strikeouts, while Dyell, who relieved him, got the same number of Ks in 2 1/3 innings of work. Bates came in as a relief pitcher in the sixth inning and Brown wrapped up the game with 3 strikeouts on 12 pitches to close the deal on Freeport’s win. Brown also pitched a complete game versus Grand Ridge, against which he had 13 strikeouts for seven innings of work.
The Bulldogs were lively at the plate against Marianna, with three batters, Brown, Chase Delaney and Dalton Simpler, all going 4-for-5. Brown and Simpler scored two runs apiece and each had a RBI, and Delaney scored one run but RBI’d three. Other standout performances came from Joseph Sanders (3-for-5, two runs, two RBIs), Dillon Bates (2-for-3, three runs), Autrey (1-for-2, two runs, one RBI) and Dyell (3-for-4).