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Combats rally, take second in state tournament

Braxton Kimbro, first baseman for the Greenville Combats 12-and-under travel baseball team, tags out a runner at first base. The Combats were runners-up at this past weekend’s Pelham-hosted state tournament.

Braxton Kimbro, first baseman for the Greenville Combats 12-and-under travel baseball team, tags out a runner at first base. The Combats were runners-up at this past weekend’s Pelham-hosted state tournament.

The Greenville Combats—the city’s 12-and-under travel baseball team—are a battle-hardened unit following 15 months of grueling challenges and Alabama’s trademark humidity.

This past weekend, that hard work came dangerously close to paying off in the form of the team’s first No. 1 finish in a statewide tournament.

But, given the caliber of opponents the Combats faced, head coach Justin Kimbro said that a runner-up finish was nothing to scoff at.

Moreover, the performance was the second runner-up finish in as many tournament appearances.

“The level of competition gets better and better as the year goes on because everyone improves,” Kimbro said.

“And what makes me so proud is the fact that our kids have improved despite the fact that we really haven’t been able to practice as much.  We’ve had a lot of city league things going on, graduations and all of those things that have been in the way the past few weeks.  It’s a testament to the team and to the coaches that we were able to make it that far.”

The Combats’ first day of the tournament proved a rocky start, splitting a pair of games with a win over PBC Blue and a narrow 5-4 loss to the Marbury Tigers.

The inconsistent first outing prompted a pep talk from the coaching staff, which paid dividends on day two as the Combats earned a pair of decisive victories over the Vestavia Blues (13-2) and the No. 2 seed Cahaba Mudcats (10-2).

The Combats’ championship round opponent, the Shelby County Defenders, was a familiar one.

“In the previous tournament, we’d actually beaten them by coming back from seven runs to advance to the championship game,” Kimbro said. “So they were out for some revenge, and they’re really one of the best teams I’ve seen.

“We just ran out of pitching.  If we were able to stay on the attack—Braxton Kimbro went up against the No. 2 seed and went six innings with only two hits allowed on him, and our bats were really good.  We had a couple of homeruns by Austin Archie, Jacob Foster and Brody Cartwright had three or four hits.  Throughout the whole tournament, everyone contributed in some type of way.  It was a team effort, so I was really pleased and grateful to coach these kids, and I’m hoping that we can continue with this success.”

The Combats are on leave, for now, though it’s possible the travel ball could attend the final tournament of the season on July 9-10.

Otherwise, the team will start fresh in the fall and advance to the 13-and-under category.

Regardless of what the future holds for the Combats in this season or the next, Kimbro said that the ultimate goal remains unchanged.

“All we’re trying to build is better competition for our kids whenever they get into high school—make them be more prepared whenever they’re facing the Edgewoods and Charles Hendersons and things like that,” Kimbro said.

“It’s not just Fort Dale kids or Georgiana kids—there are a variety of kids that are on this team, and we’re able to put a baseball mentality in them whereas Greenville has always been a football city.

“So we have to start somewhere, and now because of that we’ve just initiated a 9-and-under baseball team coached by Andy Beck, and we had our first tournament a few years back. It’s not going to be long before Andy Beck has that team in championship games, as well.

“We’re trying to build men, and if they’re going to be successful in life, they’re going to have to push through when they’re hurt and hot.  That’s what we’re trying to teach these kids.”