Monday 17 June 2019
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Pooler 8U All-Stars : Baseball State Champs

story by Cindy Burbage
For the first time since 1981, the 8U All-Star boy’s baseball division of the Pooler Recreational Department brought home the 2018 State Title; with a 15-2 win over Toombs County – Vidalia. The state championship marks the end of a 36-year drought for Pooler. Led by Head Coach Rick Harris, Jr., First Assistant Coach Danny Clarke and Assistant Coach Tommy Gibbs, the road to capturing the state title was a victory that was earned through months of preparation, hard work and the support of the Pooler Recreation Department.
The success of the 2018 team began at the start of the 2017 All-Star season. Last year, Jeremy Green, the Pooler Recreation Athletic Director decided to create an All-Star “A” team led by Coach Tommy Gibbs and an All-Star “B” team led by Coach Rick Harris to focus on two different goals. The “A” team was made up of older skilled eight-year-old players who would make a run for the state title. The “B” team was made up of younger six and seven-year-old players who were given a chance to develop for the future year. While the “B” team went on to win three out of four of the tournaments they played in, they were knocked out in the District Tournament and watched as the “A” team made a run for the state title. The “A” team finished as the runner up and lost to Lyons County in the state final. When Pooler didn’t bring home the title, Coach Harris set a goal to come back the following year and bring home the state championship.
At the end of the 2017 all-star season, Coach Harris teamed up with Tommy Gibbs, Founder of the Line Drive Travel Baseball organization, to become the Head Coach of the 8U division. Coach Harris united six key players from the All-Star “B” team with two returning players of the All-Star “A” team and a few additional players from the surrounding area to create the travel team “Line Drive – Black” which would allow the boys to continue to play together and develop their skills.
This foundational group of players worked together throughout the fall and spring seasons. As each player continued to grow and develop, they were also taught the characteristics of the game of baseball. “I knew we had a special group of players, but I didn’t know just how dynamic they were until we were able to see their true character and skill through competitive play. They not only learned each other’s strengths and weaknesses, but they learned how to win together and most importantly how to lose together,” said Coach Harris.
In South Carolina, the team had a combined 16 home-runs hit over the fence in one weekend. In Waycross, GA they shut out the home team favorite in the tournament final, run ruling them in three innings. While the team had secured several travel ball tournament championships, it wasn’t the wins that impressed the coaches the most, it was the times the team lost that really had the deepest impact. “We went into a semi-final game and gave up eleven runs in the first inning.” said Coach Clarke. “We encouraged the boys to not give up, fight back and give it everything they had. We lost that game 12-11 due to the time limit and we left the field feeling like we just won the championship.” The future Pooler All-Stars became a dominating force on the travel baseball scene and continued to bring home multiple championships.
When the 2018 All-Star season began, the team was comprised of ten players: Noah Harris, Landen Harris, Jackson Clarke, Trey Gibbs, Evan Jarrell, Sheldon Bunch, Matthew Parke, Omari Burse, Kyler Collins and Liam Coburn. Prior to the state tournament, the Pooler All-Stars participated in three tournaments which left them with a 15-2 record. It was at this point that Coach Harris decided to pull up two additional players, Ryder Lane and Evan Huntley from the Pooler All-Star “B” team to give the team more depth and prepare for the possibility of fatigue or injuries.
Pooler came into the state tournament looking to avenge their big brothers as their first game was against Lyons County- the pressure was on! “We had set a goal early on and this was the moment of truth.” said Coach Harris. “We knew as coaches and parents we had provided our boys with all of the tools necessary to succeed. It was all up to them to bring it home.” Pooler pulled out a 7-1 victory over Lyons County and continued the day with a 15-11 win over Ware County. They returned the next day to face Vidalia. The winner of this game was guaranteed to head to the championship. While the game was close and both teams went back and forth scoring runs, Pooler lost 6-4 which pushed them into the loser’s bracket.
With the loss to Vidalia, Pooler would have to come back the next day and win three games in a row to secure the championship. “We came out flat and it showed. We all went home with heavy hearts that night,” said Coach Clarke. “We prepared our boys for this,” said Coach Harris. “They knew what it was like to lose and how to handle it. They also realized that if they wanted to win, they were going to have to work for it. No one was going to just hand them a victory.” The next day, Pooler came out on fire. “They came out swinging!” said Coach Harris “It was like they turned a corner and were committed to leaving everything on the field.” They faced off again against Ware County and used their bats in a 15-4 win. Pooler made it clear that they weren’t giving up easily and came to fight.
Now entering the Championship series, Pooler would have to beat Vidalia twice to win the state title. “It was like they put their foot on the gas and never took it off.” said Coach Gibbs. “We were solid on defense and offense seemed to be where they were having the most fun.” Pooler won the semi-final game with a 16-6 victory over Vidalia, which marked Vidalia’s first loss ever of their All-Star season. But the fight wasn’t over yet. The Pooler All-Stars came into the final championship game with a hunger.
Serving again as the visiting team, Pooler started on offense and took an early 6-1 lead in the first inning. By the second inning, Pooler was winning 9-2 and became a brick wall on defense, not allowing many of the Vidalia players to reach base. By the fourth inning the team had put up 15 runs. Three outs later, the Pooler All-Star team secured the state victory with a run-rule over Vidalia. The final score was 15-2.
“The team really pulled together and were firing on all levels. Every player participated and gave it their all. We couldn’t have done it without each and every one of them,” said Coach Harris. “I will never forget how they fought back and didn’t give up. The excitement in their eyes to know that the road to state – while long, was worth every moment. I’m proud of our team, our parents, our community and most of all, I am proud of the way these twelve boys faced the battle head on and won.”
Coach Harris: “Do you want it?”
Team: “Yes sir!”
Coach Harris: “Do you need it?”
Team: “Yes sir!”
Coach Harris: “Then take it!”
This is the trademark chant of the Pooler 8U All-Star boy’s baseball team, it gets them revved up before each game. After an unforgettable season, this is sure to always be an echo in their memory banks. By bringing the championship home, the 8U Pooler All-Star team has made their city proud!

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