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Local athletes win Cocoa Expo East Coast World Series

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1,300 miles, 11 nights in hotel rooms, multiple loads of laundry, 14 games and 12 Madison County High School baseball players. Not one single disciplinary problem.

This summer brought a new challenge to these local baseball players who decided to participate with Coach Brian Annett and Coach Casey Tuten in what proved to be a very successful run all over Florida, Georgia and Alabama, beating teams such as Bishop Kenny from Jacksonville, Valdosta High School, Redbirds Travel team from Alabama; the team capped the summer off by winning the Cocoa Expo East Coast World Series when they defeated a hand-selected team from Puerto Rico.

"This summer was a powerful lesson for a bunch of our kids. When they travel with me, they don't stay with mom and dad,” said Annett. “They bunk with each other and they are challenged to make good decisions. They are given schedules and are held accountable for keeping their end of that schedule.”

The team started the summer off in early June with a tournament at Lowndes High School. They split their two game set in Valdosta beating an impressive Bishop Kenny team out of Jacksonville and then, the next night losing to Lowndes.

"The Bishop win was special. We had been working on the importance of the sacrifice bunt and doing the little things to be successful as a team,” said Tuten. “We beat Bishop with a squeeze bunt. It was great because it was instant gratification for our guys, they saw something we specifically worked on produced a win for us.”

The day after the end of the Lowndes tournament, the team rolled into Eufala, Al. to compete in the Future Stars wood bat tournament. The Madison team started strong by sweeping all three games in their first day to gain the top seed going into elimination play.

"It was a pretty tough schedule they gave us out there in Alabama, with three games in one day right off the bat. Coming off the loss to Lowndes, [which was] a game we all felt we should have won, I didn't know how the guys would respond," said Annett. “They responded well.”

"It was a nice tournament for the kids. [It was the] first time they have played in real competition with wood bats. I was real impressed with all aspects of the games,” said Annett. “We hit well, didn't make any errors and our pitchers threw a lot of strikes. When this team throws strikes and doesn't make errors, they will win a lot of games.”

The best part of this trip, however, didn't happen on the field. It was the call Coach Annett received from Florida State College of Jacksonville; Coach Brad Frick offering Dillon Burns and Gabe Miller the opportunity to play college ball next year. An opportunity both players didn't know if they would get.

"It was an awesome moment for this entire team. These boys have been together since they were eight years old, and some longer,” said Annett. “So to be together when we got the news on Dillon and Gabe was special. I think it impacted and challenged our underclassmen to get serious about college."

After returning to Madison from Eufala, the team took to the practice field for three weeks with a few inter squad games and a win against Valdosta High Schools summer squad before embarking on another road trip to Brooksville, Fl. to play in the Dixie Baseball State tournament at Hernando County High School. Competition proved tough, and the 9 a.m. (early morning) games were even tougher.

"I've coached these guys since they were nine years old. We've been to a lot of tournaments and we've never been eliminated in two straight games,” said Annett.

That streak ended though, as the Madison boys dropped a game to Springstead High School 2-1 and then lost in the elimination bracket on day two to Brooksville High.

"Two and BBQ is what we call that," said Annett. "It was a tough tournament for us, but as with all losses or failures, we typically learn a lot that we can go back and work on, and that's just what we did.”

The final tournament of the summer was an East Coast World Series event in Cocoa, Fl. at the old Spring Training complex of the Houston Astros. Travel teams from Orlando, Cocoa Beach and as far away as Puerto Rico attended the tournament.

"It was a great ending to our summer. We played a ton of games in Cocoa with only 10 players on that trip. The entire team contributed on the field,” said Annett. “We played our first game on Monday, pitching and defense again were our strong points but the bats lacked a little early in the week. By Wednesday, which was a double header day, the boys started to settle in and really hit the ball.”

The tournament ended with a 5-2 victory for the Madison team in the championship game over SBD, a hand-selected Puerto Rican team that spends the summers in Florida playing baseball throughout the state.

"Needless to say, I was proud of these kids. They represented their families very well and by the end of the week they were playing the games by themselves [with] very little coaching input,” said Annett. “ [The team] was leading one another, encouraging one another and understanding they were capable of competing with very good competition.”

The team throughout the summer included Kris Allen, Trey Adams, Drew Annett, Dustin Bass, Dylan Bass, Charlie Blanton, Dillon Burns, Drew Herring, Logan Lepper, Gabe Miller, Jay Mitchell and Mookie Prince.

"If you know any of these kids, please pull them aside and thank them for representing our community well. In every restaurant, hotel, ball field, or city they were in, I received comments from folks complementing our boys and our summer team,” said Annett. “They played with a passion, sportsmanship and brotherhood that made me very proud to be associated with them.”

Annett is very proud of his team for their accomplishments and their future endeavors.

"At the end of the day, I love these guys,” said Annett. “I want every single one of them to achieve their goals and I will continue to put them in places that challenge them to be the absolute best they can be.”

As the summer comes to an end and they return to school, Annett plans to push his team onto the next level, which is showcase tournaments throughout the southeastern United States and college campus visits. It's time for the players to get a chance to compete at the next level and this is what it takes to get there.

Unfortunately, the team is not able to carry the high school name while going into these events. They will carry the same squad of locals, however, with the exception of our graduating seniors, and they will continue to represent their community well.

Look out for more great news on this group as they begin their new team, called Clutch Baseball of Florida. You can follow their progress at www.clutchbaseballflorida.com or on Twitter at @clutchhardball.

“As I have told them all summer, there are no free rides, as Nick Saban says, 'it takes what it takes to be successful.' You don't have a lot of choices if you want to be good at something,” said Annett. “These kids get it, I hope the community will support them moving forward and will remember these guys, along with all young people, are our future. They need to be challenged to overachieve and not settle for mediocrity. I'm glad I'm along for the ride to watch them succeed."

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