By Kristin Haden & Shelley Goff
The Blooming Grove 10 and under boys began the season with a vow and a prayer. Coach Melvin Watkins and assistant coach Chuck Goff and the team of only nine players set a goal to end the season 19 and 0 with a state title. Goals are good to have.
At each practice, some lasting well past dark, it was evident that the players, coaches, and parents, never took their eyes off that goal. The Lions steamrolled over most teams in the district. It wasn’t easy fighting Mother Nature. Rain postponed most games. They met up with an old friend Breylon now playing for Mildred. Breylon began by striking out all the Lions’ power hitters. Once they figured out how to hit off of him, the Lions roared on past Mildred too, with Gabriel Watkins returning the favor and striking out the power hitter Breylon.
With the addition of pick up players Bryce Richards from Mildred and Trayton Spivey from Kerens, regional playoffs once again brought competition from an old foe. The Lions and Malakoff have a history of meeting at regionals with a vengeance. After a come-from-behind-win against Malakoff, the Lions met them the next night like a brand new ball club. The Tigers never stood a chance and wished the Lions well onward to state.
So they were on to Brownwood for the 10u tight base state tournament With their goal at the forefront, Coach Melvin Watkins laid down some rules that would be enforced by his mighty back-up, Chuck Goff.
They made it clear that the team would travel to Brownwood “to take care of business.” They did it so effectively that when the hotel clerk asked a group of the players when they might want to use the pool, they responded, “Sir, we are on a business trip. We won’t be swimming.”
The state playoffs brought a bye for the first round. But the rest of the week would not be so easy. The Lions sent the Bertram Rangers to the losers bracket on Monday night with big hits from Elijah Haden and Kian Long. Tuesday night, the Lions faced Cameron. Pitcher Trent Nicholson and catcher Garris Goff extended goodwill and compassion by walking a player they believed to be handicapped. 2nd baseman Devon Hood crossed home plate on a homerun hit by Camden Gorbet and caught a fly ball to the nose. After being forced to play a man short, the Lions scored 6 more runs and sent Cameron to the losers bracket 21-1. The rest of the team joined the Hood family in the emergency room.
Good news came with no broken nose, and Devon played Wednesday night against the Rusk Orioles. Rusk brought more competition with great pitching and big hitters. It seemed an even match, but crafty defense and base running brought the win with 4-3. This being the first loss for Rusk, they went to the losers bracket and fought their way back to face Blooming Grove again Thursday night. The Lions fought, but came up short for a tough loss. Finally with their first loss, the Lions came back Friday morning for a final showdown against Rusk. The crowd cheered, louder than they had been the whole week, with Thomas Callaway’s endless energetic yells spurring everyone on. For 6 innings, the Lions roared with big hits and sturdy defense. But the Orioles weren’t going to give it away; they came back and tied in the top of the 6th inning. With hits by Elijah Rios and Gabriel Watkins, the winning run was on base. With Elijah on third, Gabriel faked a steal and Elijah ran home with a Superman dive for the win.
Goals are good to have. The Lions fought for a state championship but ended the season 18 and 1. Not too bad.
Their dedication and persistence combined with immense talent and good coaching finally brought them the state title they’d been thirsting for. Some parents have said that this team is like a family. Coach Melvin Watkins, who has coached most of these boys since their T-ball days, says he has enjoyed seeing the team mature, especially this year. The whole group, humbled yet proud, couldn’t be happier.