49ers ready to defend state Legion tournament title

baseball_icon_greenBy David Wheeler

Special to the Journal

The Tupelo 49ers senior American. Legion baseball team is the defending state champion.

“I don’t know if that’s an advantage,” Tupelo head coach Kirk Presley said. “But it’s better to have had that experience than not.”

The 49ers barely have a handful of players returning from last year, but the 2014 group of players are ready to try to grab for some gold for themselves as the state tournament begins today at Pontotoc High School.

Tupelo gets to throw the first pitch of the event, playing the Booneville Banditos at 5 p.m.

“We like the team we have this year,” Presley said. “We have a roster full of guys that we can plug in and that gives us a chance to win.”

While rarely having its full roster most weekends this summer, the 49ers have a 16-11 record, including an impressive tournament win in June at the University of North Alabama.

Big hitters

When Tupelo is swinging the bat, Amory graduates and Itawamba Community College players Tanner Poole and Hayden Williams are 2013 holdovers, and anchor the middle of the order. Poole is batting .425, and Williams .414 this summer.

The 49ers have seven different players over the .400 mark, also including infielders Chase Cernigliaro from Tupelo at .419, and Tucker Jenkins from Baldwyn at .411

Cernigliaro was an all-area selection in soccer, and started for the Golden Wave in baseball, but was not recruited in either sport.

“I think we’ll be good in the tournament,” Poole said. “Our pitching will have to step up, but I think we have the arms that can.”

The 49ers have at least eight pitchers that Presley could call on, with Collin McCrory (3-1) and Cole Robinson (2-2) from Amory, Ty Wheeler (3-1) from Tupelo, and Dillon Taylor (1-3) from Fulton as four potential starters.

“Our pitching has been really solid, and kept us in games, and that will be key this weekend,” Presley said. “Going into nine inning state tournament games, with the heat, they will have to keep their pitch count down.”

The winner of the Tupelo-Booneville game will play host Pontotoc Red Sox at 10 a.m. Saturday. The other Friday game will feature Hattiesburg versus Vancleave at 8 p.m.