The 9-and-under Canton Stingers capped one of the most successful runs in program history last week with a title at the Dizzy Dean World Series in Southaven, Mississippi.
It was the third straight Dizzy Dean championship for the group, which won at the 7-and-under level in 2017 and again last year at 8-and-under.
“It was a really good season,” coach Roger Gantt said. “The goal was to be the first team from Canton to win championships in coach-pitch and kid-pitch. When you’ve won before, you really want to keep it going, so I was proud of how they ended things.”
Six players were on all three championship teams, while nine returned from last year. Still, there were adjustments to be made, as the players were responsible for pitching for the first time.
“We had to get used to it, for sure,” Gantt said. “At first, it was a little bit of a struggle. We needed to figure out what we needed to do. We kind of hit our groove in the state tournament, though. Once we figured out we needed to throw strikes to win, things started going a lot better.”
Though the Stingers figured things out in the state tournament, it did not result in a state championship. They lost by a run to the eventual champion from Tallapoosa, but it provided extra motivation for the World Series.
“They were mad,” Gantt said. “To say they were unhappy about it would be an understatement. We felt like we let that one get away from us. We were playing well, but we just didn’t finish that game out.”
Canton got its chance for revenge in the World Series, though.
Trailing 6-2 in the final inning against Tallapoosa, the Stingers put up eight runs in the final inning before the time limit was reached and advanced to the final with a 10-6 win.
“When we saw the brackets, we definitely circled that game,” Gantt said. “Once we took care of business there, I think we felt like we were going to win it. It almost felt like we let it get away again, but with the way we finished that game, we felt good about the championship.”
Canton rode that momentum into the final, where a 20-3 win over the Newport Nationals locked up the title.
Drew Williams was named tournament MVP for the second time, and a member of the all-tournament team for the fourth straight year. Caden McGhee and Cason Gantt also made the all-tournament team for the fourth straight year.
Braydon Fraser made his second straight all-tournament team, while Jayden Hardaway was honored for the first time.
“Our kids have been playing in big games for years,” Roger Gantt said. “It just seems like, when the pressure is on, they play their best. When we have easy games, it can be hard to keep your focus, but when we’re on the big stage playing for what we came for, it brings the best out of them.”
The win gave the Stingers a 144-22 record over the last five years, as the team prepares to disband next season. That run included three Dizzy Dean World Series championships, four Dizzy Dean District 3 championships, three state championships and 22 tournament championships overall.
“I think this is it,” Gantt said. “Everyone, pretty much, moves on to travel ball next year. It’s been a good run, and I’m just proud to have been a small part of it. It’s really all about the kids. They earned everything they accomplished.”