• Jason Dozier crosses home plate with the final run in the sixth inning Tuesday that clinched Melrose’s 13-3 Babe Ruth Small States Baseball Tournament championship over Longwood at the South Columbia Sports Complex in Fort White. Waiting for him at home plate is teammate Nick Chanel (right), who scored on the two-run single by Caden Dorris. (MARK BLUMENTHAL / Palatka Daily News)
  • Caden Dorris delivers a pitch en route to the win over Longwood in the final of the Small States Tournament at Fort White on Tuesday. (MARK BLUMENTHAL / Palatka Daily News)
  • Melrose 15-and-Under Babe Ruth baseball team manager Dale Yarbrough holds the championship trophy while addressing fans and his team after beating Longwood, 13-3, for the Small States title in Fort White. (MARK BLUMENTHAL / Palatka Daily News)

Babe Ruth Small States Baseball: Strong Starters

Big first innings key to Melrose 15-and-Unders winning fifth title in six years

FORT WHITE – Concerns Melrose 15-and-Under Babe Ruth All-Star baseball team manager Dale Yarbrough had about his team’s slow starts in recent tournament games went away Tuesday.

They did in a big way, too.

Melrose scored five runs in the first inning of its semifinal round win over Fernandina Beach, 6-1, then plated seven runs in the opening frame of the championship against Longwood en route to a 13-3, six-inning victory that clinched the team’s fifth Babe Ruth Small States Tournament in six years and third in a row at the South Columbia Sports Complex.

“We’d been struggling with our batting to start these games,” said Yarbrough, the manager of all five of his team’s Small State championships. “I was wanting our guys to just jump out on (both teams) and they responded. We outscored our opponents in this tournament, 43-11.”

In the process, Melrose improved to 9-0 thus far in the postseason. Melrose went 4-0 in winning its District 5 championship against Chiefland, 5-4, on June 10. And Melrose nearly got Chiefland in the final of Tuesday’s tournament, but Chiefland lost its semifinal matchup with Longwood, 7-4, with both games ending in two hours because of the time limit teams had to play games.

Melrose didn’t need a time limit to finish out Longwood in the 10-run mercy rule win, taking care of business on the 93-degree day in less than two hours.

Left-hander Caden Dorris was on his game, allowing two walks and scattering six hits, while striking out three. It was Dorris who ended the game via the mercy rule as his single to right field plated Nick Chanel and Jason Dozier with the 12th and 13th runs.

“The big thing was Caden threw strikes,” Yarbrough said. “He kept the ball down for us.”

Dorris was also aided by the seven-run first that was highlighted by a pair of costly Longwood errors that plated a pair of runs. Blake Dushane, who was 3-for-3 with two runs and an RBI, delivered a run-scoring double in the first.

Dozier, coming off the bench, had an RBI single in the sixth that helped get Melrose to the point of finishing the game off via the 10-run mercy rule. Carson Osteen was 2-for-4 with an RBI and Joey Bocco, who had a stellar tournament at the plate, was 2-for-4 with a run scored.

In the opener against Fernandina Beach, Jamie Crouse delivered an RBI single and Dorris and Chanel had RBI walks as part of the five-run first. That decided the game as Osteen and Brock Foshee combined to four-hit Fernandina Beach. Osteen allowed one run on two hits and struck out two, while Foshee gave up no runs on two hits in his three-inning outing, striking out one.

“Carson was a little sore so we got him out of there after the third,” Yarbrough said. “Brock has come out of nowhere in these tournaments and given us some good innings.”

Osteen finished 2-for-3 with two runs scored, while Bocco was 2-for-3 with a run and Austin Robinson finished 2-for-3 with a run. Overall, Melrose delivered 21 hits in the two victories.

Melrose now waits for the big North Florida tournament, which begins July 12 in Tallahassee. While the Small States has been a great success for Melrose over the years, only once has Melrose made a championship in the North Florida state tournament. That was in 2013 when it lost in the championship to Tallahassee, 5-4, in 15 innings. Yarbrough and his assistant coaches addressed the team after Tuesday’s title next to the scoreboard in right field as motivation toward the next tournament.

“At this tournament, we saw Fernandina Beach and Middleburg, Longwood and Hamilton County and all those teams won district title,” Yarbrough said. “The big obstacle is always Tallahassee. We have a lot of kids who can find the plate. If they throw strikes, we always have a chance.”

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