RIPLEY • American Legion baseball teams are set to start playing this week with nine Ripley Tigers playing a part on multiple teams.
After weeks of being on standby, Gov. Tate Reeves’ latest guidelines and restrictions made last week allows for public gatherings of up to 100 people outside, so teams are charging ahead with their summer seasons.
Beginning on Friday, teams will gather at Tupelo High School's baseball field where the Tupelo Jr. 49ers will face off with Jr. North Mississippi Indians at 5:30 p.m. Drew Coombs and Conner Graves each made the cut for the Jr. 49ers where they will take on high school teammate Ty Long, who is on the Jr. Indians.
Following that game, the Tupelo Sr. 49ers will face the Pontotoc Red Sox, in a game that will feature five Tigers on the diamond at 7:30 p.m. Rising seniors Hayden Fortune and Micah Johnston will team up on the Red Sox to take on Reed Shackelford, Cade Davis and Jak Ketchum, all who made the Sr. 49ers squad.
Ripley senior Lucas Cartwright and his Sr. North Mississippi Indians will make their debut on Saturday at 8 p.m. against Fortune, Johnston and the Sr. Red Sox.
"With us not being able to play any this summer, just playing anywhere to get some live reps is all I can ask of any of them," said Ripley head coach Joel Gafford. "I think if anything having baseball ripped away from us, it just shows how much everyone of us enjoys playing and not taking the opportunity to play for granted."
Those nine Tigers will square off throughout the summer months with top competition in the area, which will prove vital since the MHSAA restricted summer competition between high schools. The Ripley baseball program will still put in some work this summer, mainly in the weight room.
"We are going to lift as best we can while following the guidelines the state set," Gafford stated. "In order to be at your best on the field, we gotta get their bodies back in as good of shape as possible."
In the meantime, Gafford is happy to see his kids compete at a high level in a league he considers "the way to go."
"For the cost, I think Legion is the way to go. People get caught up in playing for these big expensive travel organizations that are making a living off of folks," said Gafford. "Most kids, if they get to play after high school, are going to go to junior college first and there will be junior college coaches at most of these tournaments that they are at. We didn’t get a season to do anything, so if you want to be seen this year, now is the time. The pandemic will just magnify who actually worked during that time and who sat on the couch and played video games."