Leader Blues

Monday, July 31, 2006

SPORTS >> Southern Tag wins world

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

For two years running, the Southern Tag 13-under fast pitch softball team has brought a USSSA world title home to Jacksonville. After last year’s 12-U West World Series Championship, the now 13-U team traveled to Cincinatti, Ohio, earlier this month to go up against 22 of the country’s best fast-pitch teams. Southern Tag outlasted teams from 14 different states that showed up for the tourney to claim their fourth USSSA tournament win in the last two years.

“They all did a good job,” Southern Tag coach Eric Pack said. “The nucleus of this team has been together for six years now. They just understand each other really well, and what to expect. We have had good pitching and great defense this year.”
Jacksonville beat the Smokey Mountain Sting of North Carolina 10-2 in the finals of the winners bracket, but the Sting would have their chance for revenge in the tournament finals. After winning the finals of the losers bracket, Southern Tag handled them just as easily the second time around. In one of their best defensive performances of the tournament, Tag held the Sting to only a single run to take a decisive 7-1 win, and the trophy for the world title.

Southern Tag went an impressive 8-0 in the world series to improve their overall season record to an incredible 58-13, but that’s not to say there weren’t a few scary moments for the team. In fact, the first two games of pool play in the tournament were come-from-behind wins for Southern Tag. Tag rallies in the first two games against Chicago’s Oaklawn Ice Blue and the Crystal Lake Tidal Waves forced International tiebreaks in both contests, with Southern Tag pulling out the extra-inning wins. The game against the Tidal Waves took two days to complete, with inclement weather delaying the remainder of the game until the next day.

Crystal Lake held the advantage until the sixth inning. Southern Tag tied the game at 4-4 in the sixth, and scored one more run in the eighth inning to pull out the razor-thin victory. The final game of pool play against the Nightmares from Ohio started out close, with both teams failing to score through the first five innings. Southern Tag got their bats in order for the sixth inning, scoring six runs on their side to shut out the Nightmares 6-0 and assuring themselves a spot in the winners bracket.
The semifinal matchup against Smokey Mountain Sting of North Carolina was anticipated to be one of the closest contested matchups of the entire tournament. Both teams had rolled through pool play and opening round bracket play undefeated, but Southern Tag wasted little time taking the advantage on their much-hyped opponents. Tag scored four runs in the opening inning to create a lead that would only grow larger as the game went on. The fourth inning was the only scoreless inning for Southern Tag in the game, as they went on to rout the Sting by a final score of 10-2.

Along with the USSSA World title, Southern Tag has won its share of big tournaments this season. Out of 13 total tournaments entered, Southern Tag has brought home first place in eight of them. Third-place overall finishes in Longview, Texas, and the Fayro tournament at Fayetteville have been the worst to date for Tag, who also have three runner-up finishes.
The impressive tournament results have been enough to merit a number-one national ranking in the USSSA bracket A season standings. Southern Tag has taken first place at the ASA 14-U state tournament, the state and world qualifier in Jackson, Tennessee, the West Tennessee Memorial Blast, the Kansas City Memorial Day tourney and the Early Bird Classic along with the world title and two other preseason titles.

The team has no plans of slowing down anytime soon. Plans for the Arkansas Fall State and Texas Fall State tournaments will have Southern Tag competing into October. At the rate they have been going, that could be bad news for teams everywhere.