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Western gets its chance at regionals

Friday, Aug. 07, 2009


Ryan Mullis never thought that the Western Little League 13-14-year-old all-stars could win the state championship.

After all, most of the players had been playing all-star baseball at Western for a couple of years, and they had not made it past the district tournament. But this year has been different. Not only did they roll through district play, they cruised through the state tournament, defeating Toccoa 3-2 in the championship game.

And starting Saturday, Western will represent Georgia in the regional tournament in Cartersville.

Mullis, arguably the ace of a deep pitching staff, is excited about his first trip to regional play.

“It will be a great opportunity to see how good we really are,” Mullis said. “I think that our confidence level went way up during the state tournament, and we realized that we could play with anyone in the state. Now we get our chance to see if we can play with anyone in this region.”

Western opens play against North Carolina on Saturday morning. Either Mullis or left-hander Brandon McDaniel will pitch, but both will be important parts of the lineup regardless of where they play.

“I am very excited about playing in the regionals,” McDaniel said. “I think our pitching is strong enough to keep us in any game, and if we hit, we should be able to do well. We are also very strong defensively and usually don’t give away too many outs.”

McDaniel, who says he has grown around 12 inches in the past two years to his current height of 6-foot-3, faces surgery for a leaky aortic valve later this year and is also playing with a partially torn MCL.

“I have had the leaky aortic valve all my life, and it has never bothered me. But I am going to get that fixed in November,” McDaniel said. “I can’t play any contact sports, but it doesn’t stop me from anything else. My knee really doesn’t bother me too much on the baseball field. Once we get to playing, I pretty much forget about it.”

Western’s pitchers have a quality backstop to throw to in catcher Peyton Kell. The 14-year-old rising freshman at Windsor said he thinks this team can keep advancing.

“I have definitely thought about making it to the World Series in Michigan,” Kell said. “I know that regionals will be very challenging, but I really think that we can win it. Making it to the World Series is an opportunity that doesn’t come around too often, and we plan on doing everything we can do to make it.”

Kell has plenty of confidence in the top three pitchers on the team.

“Ryan Mullis can really bring it. His fastball gets close to 80 mph, and he can dominate a game,” Kell said. “Brandon McDaniel is able to put the ball where he wants it. He hits my glove on most of his pitches. And John Whitsell has two great curveballs that make him unhittable at times. I really enjoy catching these guys.”

Western head coach Bunnie Griffin believes his team is special.

“We have showed how good we can be,” Griffin said. “I think the keys for us, obviously, will be our pitching and the front of our lineup. We count on Jonathan Brooks and Caleb Shipp to set the table for us, and if they get on base, our offense can be explosive. A lot of the kids have been playing together since they were 5 years old, and they are very excited about getting to play against the best team in the Southeast. I would say we are very confident going into this tournament.”

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