By Mike Talbert
AMORY Rusty Camp’s grandfather Pete Bennett was up from Niceville, Fla., and there was a contingent of pro and college scouts on hand, mainly to see Camp’s teammate Rufus French take batting practice.
Camp, the Amory pitcher, was throwing against a tough Gulf Breeze team in the Okaloosa County, Fla., Baseball Classic. Camp was nervous, but he threw a three-hit shutout, striking out a school record 18 batters.
“It was the best game I ever pitched in my life. I dedicated it to my grandmother who passed away a month ago,” Camp said.
His performance was part of a baseball education for the Amory Panthers, who went to Florida to get better. They found out while they were there that they might have a pretty competitive baseball team.
They went 2-2 and finished fourth in the 12-team field.
There was nothing more impressive than Camp’s performance.
“They live and die by the fastball down there,” Amory coach Vince McLemore said. ” When they are batting they sit on a the fastball, If a pitcher can get his breaking pitch over he can kill them.
“Rusty had his curve ball going and could sneak his fastball in there.”
Camp was on. So was the Gulf Breeze pitcher. They both had a perfect game going into the fifth inning. Then Camp gave up his first hit, but didn’t relax. He gave up a couple more hits in the sixth, then struck out the side in the top of the seventh.
“My arm felt one hundred percent. It was like a rubber band,” he said.
Camp, who is also a solid hitter, singled in the bottom of the seventh. Pinch runner Scott Haynes, who leads the team with 11 steals, stole second and scored on freshman David Mooneyham’s single to win the game.
Amory continued to play well but it’s luck changed. And, Camp said, “we got a little tired.”
It took a three-run homer in the sixth to wipe out an Amory lead in its first loss in the holiday tournament to Choctaw 8-7. The second loss was to Liberty 11-4.
“We went down there and played really well,” McLemore said. “To be honest I thought we’d go down there and be 0-4 but come back a lot better team.”
That feeling was reinforced when his Panther squad watched the Fort Walton Beach team take infield.
First baseman Brent Miley said, “They were doing a lot of the small things you don’t see many teams around here doing.”
The Amory bats showed that they were serious, pounding out 16 hits in that first game, with Miley getting four hits, Rufus French, Camp and Eric Carpenter getting three hits each. Carpenter also had two of his three triples in the tournament as the Panthers won 18-7.
That allowed Amory to set a tone for the tournament, as the Panthers batted .341 as a team. It also showed that Amory is a more solid team than its 9-6 record would indicate. Four of the losses are by one-run.
Amory has good balance this season with the team hitting a combined .326 and the pitching with a 3.26 ERA.
Camp (2-1) has 36 strikeouts in 18 innings. His one loss is 3-2 to Caledonia in a game noted more for its 18-degree temperatures and a minus-7 wind chill factor. The Panthers left a runner stranded on third five times to frustrate Camp’s 13-strikeout effort in that game.
The trip to Florida was in part the result of McLemore’s ties to that region when he was starting his coaching career. The rest of it was part of a $9,000 fundraising effort led by Amory booster club president E.C. Carpenter. The team chartered a bus and stayed on the beach at Destin, and played some baseball.
French, a Parade all-America tight-end, showed why he is also a top baseball prospect, hitting .461, only five points below his overall average, drawing three walks and stealing three bases.
“He stole second and third on consecutive pitches in one game. He knows how to read pitchers and gets a great jump,” McLemore said.
Miley led the bats with a .533 tournament.
Amory now turns it’s attention to Mississippi opponents. It isn’t going to be easy, but Camp does have a standard to aim for.
“I’m going to do my best to repeat that game every game I pitch,” Camp said.