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Sizing them up

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Matthew Matthijs, left, and Ashton Byars stand on the field at Elm Street Park. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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BY RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Matthew Matthijs stands 6-foot-1, which is bigger than some college baseball players. North State teammate Ashton Byars is 5-foot and built more like a conventional Little League player.

They are on opposite ends of the height spectrum for the North State All-Stars, but at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., North State will be playing against teams later this week that have similar rosters with a few “big kids” and others who are closer to Byars’ size. With these boys being age 12 or 13, it is natural for them to hit growth spurts with variance.

But Byars are other 5-footers take pride in their stature.

“It’s funny because me as the shortest kid on the team and him the biggest, we were both battling at the last round of home run derby during a practice in Georgia (for the Southeast Regional),” Byars said. “They didn’t expect that from somebody so short.”

When he’s on the pitcher’s mound, Matthijs mainly throws in the mid-70s miles per hour range. ESPN uses a converter, which is based on reaction time, during its broadcasts of Little League, and during the Southeast Regional it had most of Matthijs’ pitches in the high-90s as an Major League Baseball equivalent.

Byars also is a pitcher, and not every Little League player can step on to the mound and just overpower opposing hitters. Pitching styles definitely differ.

With tournaments played in double-elimination format and pitch count restrictions, how a coach mixes and manages these pitching styles can often determine which teams advance.

“Once they start finding their roles and embracing that role, it’s good to see them start coming together because you need all 13 boys to win,” North State coach Brian Fields said. “They have done a great job pulling for each other and coming together and really just playing for every out.”

At this point in the summer, Matthijs and others his size have outgrown the Little League fields they play on and their scaled-down dimensions.

Matthijs’ pitching was a big factor in North State going 4-0 to win its regional played in Warner Robins, Ga.

Jayce Blalock, the biggest player on the Peachtree City, Ga., squad that North State beat in the championship game in Warner Robins, made his mark as a hitter and gained brief social media fame for a long home run he hit to left field. USA Today posted a short story and video of the long shot on its website.

Players’ sizes get a lot of attention when it comes to Little League coverage, which Matthijs has noticed as his Greenville team has made a run to the prestigious World Series event.

“There are not many people (my size) at age 12,” he said. “I was asked about a ton, because nobody knew me down as the Southeast Regional.”

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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