Greenville eight-and-under All-Stars win district

Published 4:40 pm Friday, June 24, 2016

The Greenville eight-and-under All-Stars will square off for the state title in Troy on July 8 after claiming the district crown Tuesday evening.

The Greenville eight-and-under All-Stars will square off for the state title in Troy on July 8 after claiming the district crown Tuesday evening.

One of the smallest Greenville baseball teams is casting perhaps the largest shadow in All-Star rec league play.

The Greenville eight-and-under All-Stars secured a first-place win in district play with an exemplary performance over some of the toughest teams in the state, including Enterprise-American, Eufaula, Luverne and others.

What’s more is that the team has yet to taste defeat.

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Greenville eight-and-under All-Stars head coach Justin Kimbro said that Tuesday night’s district win was monumental not only for the eight-and-under program, but for Greenville as a whole.

“We came in first in district, and I really don’t know when the last time was that we were able to produce a district champion, let alone with eight-year-olds,” Kimbro said.

“So it’s an accomplishment for a lot of people and these kids because they’ve worked really hard.”

Kimbro has been coaching baseball in one form or another for 16 years, and he said that few teams in that time have impressed him as much as this year’s eight-and-under team.

Though coaching a team of eight-year-olds presents several challenges, it also holds a few surprising advantages.

“Going from 11-year-olds and 12-year-olds to seven and eight-year-olds has been a challenge, but it’s been really enjoyable for me as a coach to be able to coach these kids because they’re still at the age where they listen and do what you ask them to do,” Kimbro said.

“Not saying that the 11 and 12-year-olds don’t, but they’re starting to get to the age where they think they already know some of the things.  I’m actually able to be more of a hands-on coach and show them the difference between the right way and the wrong way, and they believe what I say.  And that’s been beneficial to the success of our team so far.”

What’s been less beneficial to the team has been the somewhat stunted preparation period, as rival teams Eufaula, Troy and others received a two-week head start.

The end result was a Greenville team left with only three weeks to prepare for the toughest competition of the year.

Fortunately, after a few victories in practice games against Luverne, Enterprise and other district opponents, the eight-and-under team’s confidence quietly began to build.

“I knew that this team was special from the chemistry, the good attitudes and the way a lot of parents are willing to sacrifice whatever in order for these little kids to be successful,” Kimbro said.

When Greenville duplicated its success under the added stress of district tournament nerves—including an 8-5 victory over previous runner-up Eufaula and a convincing 20-4 win over Luverne in the following round—Kimbro knew that the team had a real shot at the championship.

The other teams continued the elimination phase of the tournament after Greenville earned its spot in the championship round; when the dust settled, it was Eufaula who climbed to the finals for a rematch.

“We knew it was going to be hard fought because they’re a really good team, and the coach even told us that they were coming for us,” Kimbro said.

Unfortunately for Eufaula, the second attempt produced the same results as Greenville emerged victorious with a thrilling 8-6 win.

Now, with the district tournament behind them, the eight-and-under team has its collective sights set on the state tournament in Troy on July 8. But before that, a break is in order.

“We’re going to push the reset button,” Kimbro said. “I’m giving these kids five days off to let them go and be kids because this is their summer.  These kids are 7 and 8 years old, and you don’t want to push them and drive them too hard.

“We’re going to start back on track on Monday from square one.  If kids want a position, they work for it. Just because you started this position and did well during the district tournament, that’s not going to make you any better thinking that you have a position secured.  Thinking that the next man up might take your position is how you improve, and the reason we’ve been successful is because we have competitive kids who are willing to do whatever it takes to get better.”

The biggest challenge for Greenville still lie ahead, but the eight-and-under team’s performance has proven to Kimbro and the community at large that they’re ready to meet it head-on.

“The kids are super excited and the parents are super excited because we all know that these kids can do it,” Kimbro said.

“So far, in all-star play, we’re eight wins and zero losses.  This is a very special team, and if they stick together, work hard and improve on the things that we know we need to improve on, there’s a possibility that this team can make it to the world series.”