Zac Cravens knew it was over.
And it really hurt — and we’re not just talking about the elbow.
Two weeks ago in the second game of the Southeastern Regional, Cravens and Columbus Northern were battling a scrappy Alabama team in a what was a 1-1 deadlock in the fourth inning.
Cravens was doing what he does best when Colton Schultz came to the plate. The right-handed pitcher was keeping the Alabama hitters off balance with a sneaky fastball and steady diet of junk.
On his second pitch to Schultz, which was fouled off, Cravens’ Little League World Series dream ended.
“I felt it pop,” Cravens later said.
It was the growth plate in his elbow, and it pulled away from the bone. It was the second time Cravens has suffered such an injury. It first happened when he was 9, pitching in B-ball.
The next day, Cravens came home from Warner Robins and was examined by Dr. Champ Baker at Hughston Clinic.
Baker delivered the bad news.
“He told me not to pick up a baseball for three or four weeks,” Cravens said.
It was not good news for Northern manager Randy Morris.
Cravens was one of those arms counted on to keep Northern alive and provide quality innings. He was also a bridge to get Northern to Jacob Pate, the team’s most dominant pitcher.
“It just makes me sick,” Morris said. “We are not only losing a very good player but also an outstanding kid.”
Morris should know.
For the last three years, Cravens has been on the Dodgers, Morris’ regular-season team.
“He has been our lead pitcher since he was 10 years old,” said Donnie Coulter, who was the assistant coach for the Dodgers and is also an assistant for the all-star team.
More than that, Cravens is a leader.
“Always has been,” Coulter said.
So, this is where the story ends, right?
Cravens has had to shift into a new role. And he has.
“I keep them focused in the dugout,” Cravens said.
And Cravens provides focus in his unique way. He sports a Mohawk hairdo and a confidence that is contagious.
“Spirited,” Coulter said. “But when it comes down to playing baseball, he’s a bulldog.”
Unfortunately, the bulldog is on a leash this week.
But that has not stopped him from contributing.
Since he can’t pitch, Cravens has found another way to help Northern. And he will be doing it this week as Northern plays in the Little League World Series.
“He’s like a third coach,” Morris said.
A third coach, indeed.
“He knows all of our hitters, because he has pitched against most of them,” Coulter said.
So, Cravens will offer advice or tips when his teammates get back to the dugout.
This week, as you watch Northern play, look for the kid with the funky hair who will never leave the dugout.
But don’t feel sorry for him.
He’s already a winner.