ENTERPRISE – As storm clouds approached, Dothan American was quickly presented its championship trophy for winning the Dixie Youth Ozone Rookie (ages 11-12) state baseball championship.
It took some thunder and lightning in the final inning to complete the feat.
Brooks Canady boomed a walk-off hit between left and center field with the bases loaded to bring in two runs as Dothan rallied past Troy 5-4 in the bottom of the sixth inning on Tuesday.
Dothan went through the tournament unbeaten with five wins, but the final one was the toughest to come by.
“They kind of punched us in the mouth,” Dothan coach Dustin Byrd said of Troy. “We were undefeated and I think our boys came out a little overconfident. Hand it to Troy, though. They battled us, but we found a way to win.”
With the score tied 3-3 going to the sixth inning, Troy regained the lead when Luke Sikes singled with two outs into right field to bring in Chase Vaznaian, who had doubled in the previous at-bat.
Dothan then got back to work in the bottom of the sixth.
Harrison Autrey reached on an infield hit to begin the rally. Tyler Sharp then reached on an error. After Mason Gandy lined out to center field, Kade Smith singled to load the bases with one out.
Canady then ripped a pitch into the gap to score the winning runs.
Eight of the 12 players on the Dothan roster were part of a team which reached the Dixie AAA (10U) World Series a year ago.
“This team is really close,” Byrd said. “All of them, not just the eight that went to the World Series, but the other four – they’re just a really tight-knit team.”
Dothan was in a good situation pitching-wise going into the game. As the only undefeated team left in the 10-team tourney, there would have been an if-necessary game had Troy pulled off the victory.
Dothan used four pitchers in the game – starter Graham Davis, followed by Sharp, Smith and Canady.
Troy went with starting pitcher Jaxon Wade through four innings before he was relieved by Vaznaian after the first two batters reached in the fifth.
“Thankfully we were fortunate enough to save our pitchers and keep them under the necessary pitch count to have them all available today,” Byrd said. “We were in a good situation going into Game 2 if needed.”
Troy struck first in the opening inning when Slade Russell, who led off with a single, advanced to second on a wild pickoff attempt, stole third and came in to score on a groundout off the bat of Ford Hussey two batters later.
Dothan got out of further damage with an interesting double play. With a runner at third with one out, Davis got a strikeout, but the ball was dropped. Gandy, at catcher, fired down to first base to record the out, and then Smith fired back to home to get the third out on a runner trying to score on the play.
Dothan came back with two runs in the bottom of the inning to grab the lead when John Martin Byrd singled in Sharp, who had doubled, and Gandy, who had walked.
It stayed that way until the fourth inning when Troy scored twice to wrestle back the lead.
After two outs to begin the inning, Sikes reached on an error. Joshua Gardiner then singled past third to bring in Sikes to tie the game. After Gardiner reached third on a stolen base, Dalton Jordan singled past third to bring in the go-ahead run in making it 3-2.
Dothan tied it in the bottom of the fifth when Davis scored after a two-out infield fly off the bat of Cason Boothe was dropped to set up the dramatic sixth inning.
The state tourney will end the season for Dothan American as there isn’t a World Series for the Rookie Ozone league.
“They love baseball, they love to practice and that’s why they’re good,” Byrd said of his team. “They work hard and they’re just a joy to coach.”