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Local prep baseball stars take on elite status during summer months

POSTED: July 20, 2008 5:01 a.m.
/For The Times

Team Elite is one of the premier travel baseball teams for high school baseball players. Pictured from left, Flowery Branch's Brad Stone, North Hall's Jackson Coker and K.J. McAllister are all part of the Team Elite this summer.

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K.J. McAllister couldn’t imagine taking a break from playing baseball. It’s the work-ethic this rising North Hall High junior brings to the field with the idea in mind that someone else would gladly take his place.

“I get worn out sometimes,” McAllister said. “But I know if I’m not out there playing, then the next guy is going to be ready to take my spot.”

So McAllister takes to the field every day during the summer looking to sharpen skills that earned him Times 2008 Baseball First Team All Area honors, as a sophomore. He’s looking to improve his already advanced skills playing with the Team Elite travel baseball program this summer.

It would be an honor for anyone to play with a team of this caliber, but McAllister is tackling playing with the 16-, 17- and 18-year-old squads.

For McAllister, the World Wood Bat Association Perfect Game tournament, that requires players take a break from the norm and use a wooden bat, is an example of the endurance that keeps him playing on three teams.

This smooth-fielding short stop plays on the 16- and 17-year-old Team Elite squads.  It wasn’t easy, making the jump from one roster to another at the junction of different tournaments. As soon as the tournament for the 17-year-old Team Elite ended July 12, he jumped into the schedule with the 16-year-old Team Elite for the start of its tournament July 15.

“I’m so focused, I think I can play everyday,” McAllister said. “I really don’t like just sitting around.”

McAllister isn’t the only local player that was pegged by Team Elite coach Brad Bouras to travel to tournaments in, among others, Marietta, Statesboro, Athens and Atlanta.

Team Elite is loaded with local players.

Also playing with McAllister on Team Elite is his Trojans teammate Jackson Coker, and Flowery Branch rising junior outfielder Brad Stone. Recent Gainesville High graduates Justin Fordham and Zach Bennett have also played in games this summer with the 18-year-old Team Elite. Jefferson’s Cameron Blinn, Chris Beck and Jake Fields are also on Team Elite rosters.

As time consuming as it is to play with one team on a regular basis, McAllister’s teammates are quite amazed at his stamina and love for baseball as part of three rosters.

“K.J. eats, sleeps and drinks baseball,” Coker said. “I know we can play three games in a day and he’ll still want to go take batting practice afterward.”

“He’s (K.J.) just one of those guys that makes it look easy on the baseball field,” Stone added.
Coker and McAllister played last fall with Team Elite after spending the summer of 2007 playing with the Savannah Chain. Stone says he was invited out to play with the recommendation of McAllister’s father.

“I think it’s really beneficial playing travel baseball at this level of competition,” Stone said. “I think my hitting has definitely improved with the good pitching we’ve seen this summer.”

Team Elite’s schedule this summer consists of tourneys already played at Division I schools like, among others, Georgia, Georgia Southern and Georgia State as part of a 40 game schedule.

The highlight of the summer is the Perfect Game Wood Bat tournament starting this week at the East Cobb complex in Marietta. Team Elite is one of 138 teams in this tourney with games spread out over Cobb and Cherokee counties.

It’s a different feel for these players in a tournament where a wood bat is mandatory.

“We’ve worked all summer to get ready for this tournament,” Coker said. “It’s a great environment with some of the best teams in the country, plus its got the old-fashioned feel playing with a wood bat.”

Playing such a competitive summer schedule can even make players forget about high school rivalries — for the time being. Stone knew starting the summer he was essentially the odd man out, teamed up with a pair of players from rival North Hall. But now he’s comfortable enough with the rivals from North Hall, that he can throw in a jab every now and then reminding them that Flowery Branch owned bragging rights from the 2008 season.

“At first I was kind of like ‘oh my gosh, they go to North Hall,’” Stone said. “But I found out real quick that they’re pretty cool — we even hang out together on days that we don’t have games now.”

These players will be quick to re-align with their high school teammates once the season is over, but all feel like they’ve benefited from playing at a high level of competition this summer with Team Elite.

“We all have a rivalry,” McAllister said. “But playing summer ball together is really relaxed and a lot of fun.”



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