Albany team soaking in excitement of Dixie League World Series run

The Albany Dixie League 9- and 10-year-old team gathers around coach Ardis Pickett before Sunday’s game in the DYB World Series in Laurel, Miss.

The Albany Dixie League 9- and 10-year-old team gathers around coach Ardis Pickett before Sunday’s game in the DYB World Series in Laurel, Miss.

Albany routs way into quarterfinals

LAUREL, Miss. — Albany's American League baseball team improved to 3-0 in the Dixie Youth Baseball World Series on Monday with a 13-3, four-inning victory against Florida.

Albany advances to the quarterfinals, where they will play Team Mississippi, the only other undefeated team in the tournament. The game will start at 9 p.m. today.

Florida got all of its runs in the first inning Monday before Albany's Denver Bryant entered the game as a relief pitcher midway through the first to get out of a jam. Bryant shut Florida the second and third innings to continue her star-studded tournament performance, while Jordan Buchanan closed out the game in the fourth inning.

LAUREL, Miss. — Denver Bryant admits that she hasn’t been practicing her autograph lately.

Judging by her performance in the Dixie Youth Baseball World Series, she might want to start.

Bryant and her 10-year-old teammates from Albany have captured the World Series by storm this month, and Bryant — the only girl on Albany’s roster and one of only two girls in the tournament — has been at the center of it all.

“Other teams and players are coming up and asking to have their picture taken with her,” Albany coach Ardis Pickett said. “Parents are asking their kids to take pictures with her. And it’s not just her age group, it’s the 11- and 12-year-olds, too.”

Teams from around the nation have been awestruck by Bryant, the 10-year-old clean-up hitter who plays first base and pitches.

“I’ve felt like a celebrity,” said Bryant, who hit the game-winning home run in Albany’s tournament opener Saturday against Virginia.

Bryant and her teammates — who now play under the name Team Georgia —came from behind to win their first two tournament games Saturday and Sunday against Virginia and South Carolina and were one of only three undefeated teams entering Monday’s late game against Florida, which Albany won, 13-3, in four innings.

The win puts Albany into the quarterfinals of the 9- and 10-year-old bracket.

On Sunday, Albany avoided slipping into the loser’s bracket with a thrilling, last-inning comeback against South Carolina, which led 7-3 going into the top of the sixth inning.

With just three outs remaining, Pickett challenged his players to fight back.

“I told them that this is the time to do it,” Pickett said. “We are fighters. We had to come from behind to beat Virginia (on Saturday). We don’t just give up.”

Albany cut the lead to 7-5 without giving away a single out, and then the team got a little extra support from the 11-12 year-old team representing Georgia from Troup County.

“As soon as we made the score 7-5, the Troup County team on the field right next to our’s came back to win,” Pickett said. “So their parents and all of their players came to our field and jumped in rooting for us. It took us to another level. Georgia was loud (Sunday) night.”

Albany’s Antonio James and Jordan Buchanan had RBI bunt singles to tie the game, and then Buchanan scored on a passed ball to put Albany on top 8-7.

Pickett’s son, who is also named Ardis Pickett, pitched a clean bottom of the sixth to keep Albany undefeated.

“This has been very exciting,” the elder Pickett said. “I think the parents and coaches are even more excited than the kids. To them, it’s almost like they are just happy to be here and happy to be playing baseball. They don’t understand that excitement around it. They are proud to represent their state, but I don’t think they understand what they can accomplish.”

Pickett says his players have taken all of their success and newfound fame in stride.

“The coolest thing is to see these kids accomplish all they are and to not get overly excited,” he said. “This is such a great group of kids. For example, when we won the Georgia state tournament, the first thing the kids asked me was, ‘OK, coach, does this mean we get new uniforms?’ ”

They ended up getting two new sets of uniforms, both embroidered with “Georgia” on the front and their names and numbers on the back.

And they are uniforms that have become quite popular in Laurel, Miss.

“Other teams started to take note of us during the skill competitions,” Pickett said. “Jordan Buchanan won the base running competition, and that’s the biggest thing people are noticing: our speed. Other teams are starting to watch us.”

The team of 12 boys and one girl has become the talk of the tournament, and Pickett is hoping the support picks up back home, too.

“This is a huge deal,” he said. “All of these kids here go to school in Dougherty County, and I think it’s huge for Albany as a whole. We have some excellent baseball in Albany, and this showcases some of the talent we have.”

And nobody has performed in the spotlight more so than Bryant, who lit up when asked about her game-winning homer on Saturday.

“Yeah, I was happy,” she said. “When I was running around the bases, it felt like everybody was looking at me.”

Indeed, they are.