First place no shocker for Masters City squad

Chris Thelen/Staff
Augusta Shockers coach Lee Solt (from left standing), Garrett Busbee, Bryson Stack, Corey Arnold, Jeremiah Schaeffer and assistant coaches Robbie Busbee and Mark Malcom and (from bottom left) Aaron Malcom, Jon Jon Evans, Bradley Miller and Kendrick Kelly. The 13-under team is ranked first in the state and region in the USSSA standings. Logan Christian is not pictured.

Kendrick Kelly II gazed into the late evening sun and quickly pointed toward the smaller of two baseball fields near the entrance to Masters City Little League Park.

That field, he said, was where he first learned to play. But he didn't learn until recently just how much potential he has on the diamond.

"I was horrible," the 13-year-old said of his start in little league baseball. "But then I grew up a little. I got bigger and ran faster. Now, my teammates know I can get a hit in tight situations. I like having that pressure."

Kelly's strong play seems to have peaked in time, because the Classic Shockers Gray squad is dominating the United States Specialty Sports Association baseball league.

The 13-under team is No. 1 in both the state and regional Class AA rankings, a region which includes seven states from Texas to Florida.

That standing trumps the 14-under Classic Shockers Blue team, which is ranked No. 1 in the state, but not in the region.

But arguably the most impressive ranking comes at the national level, where the 13-under group stands in second place out of 1,418 USSSA teams.

Things weren't always this good for the Shockers.

"Before, when teams would see us walking in on the first day of the tournament, they would say, 'Look, it's the Shockers. We'll beat them,'" said Jeremiah Schaeffer, an eighth-grader at St. Mary's. "Now, they say, 'Look, it's the Shockers. We don't really have a chance.'"

The USSSA league provides a unique format, more similar to high school baseball than little league. Players can steal bases, which are further apart than in little league, and the overall game is played at a faster pace.

Seven of the players joined the team after competing as part of the little league all-star team out of Masters City before last year's Little League World Series. With Masters City playing host to the 2006 state tournament, the squad nearly pulled off a semifinal victory over the eventual winning team from Columbus Northern Little League.

That group from Columbus went on to win the Little League World Series, beating Japan 2-1 in the title game.

"That week, those guys were pretty much glued to the TV," said Tonya Malcom, who the coaches say handles pretty much everything for the team. "When they played Columbus, they really got to know all the players. And they were living the experience through that team.

"They couldn't believe people they knew were playing in the Little League World Series."

While the Masters City All-Stars didn't make it to the world stage, the Shockers have already qualified for the USSSA Class AA World Series, which will be held July 15-22 in Pensacola, Fla.

While the team's rise to the No. 2 spot in the latest national rankings can be attributed mostly to the play on the field, nearly all of the players and their parents offered praise for the job both coaches have done in achieving a 13-4 record this season.

Coach Lee Solt joined coach Mark Malcom one year ago, and the combination has proved beneficial to the team in the form of a constant positive attitude and a group that simply plays hard and plays the game the right way.

"When we go on trips, I ask the kids to give me 110 percent for just two hours," Solt said. "After they do that, they can relax. And you can't imagine how much fun those kids will have on trips."

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