VALDOSTA — The Valdosta Red Sox will try to add to their string of state titles today.

The Red Sox, a summer league baseball team comprised of college players, are one of four teams competing in the Georgia state championships today at Westside High School in Macon.

The Red Sox open the tournament at 10 a.m. today against the Georgia Stars, a formidable team that has not lost a game all season. While the Red Sox have built a team of local players, the Stars draw from all over, including a couple of players who fly in from Texas to play.

The Red Sox head to the tournament 14-9 this season. This is the first year the state of Georgia has had a summer collegiate baseball league. Traditionally, the Sox had played in a league of teams from North Florida and South Georgia. The league has nine teams total, five in the south and four in the north. The tournament is matching the top two teams from South Georgia against the top two teams from North Georgia. The Red Sox finished second in the South.

The Red Sox have played doubleheaders every Saturday and Sunday the past seven weeks, an impressive dedication for a group of kids on summer vacation.

“They play for the love of baseball, for the love of the game,” Red Sox head coach Cecil Barber said. “They have given up their weekends for seven weeks in a row.”

This was the first season the Red Sox competed without team founder Ralph Starling, who passed away this spring. Starling coached the team for over 40 years before passing the reins on to another coach in 2003.

This year, the team needed a new coach. So Valdosta State baseball coach Tommy Thomas, a former Red Sox player and longtime friend of the program, turned to Barber, a former Clinch County High coaching legend, to take the reins. Barber obliged.

“Coach Thomas asked me to coach this team,” Barber said. “We wanted to make sure this team was known as the Valdosta Red Sox. We tried to hold on to the tradition, and carry on the program that Ralph Starling built.”

Barber, who won six state championships coaching at Clinch from 1979-2003, has enjoyed the experience.

“It’s been a lot of fun to be around these people,” Barber said. “It’s enjoyable coaching these guys because of their love of the game.”

Coaching the Red Sox has given Barber another chance to coach his son Rhett, a former state player of the year at Clinch who pitched for South Georgia College last year. Another former Clinch County All-State player, Rance Morgan, is also on the team.

The Red Sox have four Valdosta State players on the team: Brad Altone, Jessie Barfield, Eddie San Roman and Kyle Barendoe. They also have former Lowndes High shortstop Brandon Ponder and pitcher Caleb Hutchinson, and former Valdosta High catcher Brent Turner. Former Berrien High second baseman Calem Ray is another local player on the team.

“These guys are good players, and each one is out there trying to get to the next level,” Barber said. “Their dreams are to play for a four-year school or be playing pro ball.”

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