Kids show Pitch, Hit & Run skills at Turner Field

Kids show Pitch, Hit & Run skills at Turner Field

ATLANTA -- As the first softball player to repeat as a Scotts Major League Baseball Pitch, Hit & Run national champion, Madison Hayes has experienced her fair share of success in the competition.

But it's not the accolades or the chance to attend the  All-Star Game festivities that brought her back to Turner Field on Saturday for the fourth straight year.

"It just keeps the motivation, like don't give up," said Hayes, 14, about continuing to compete in the event. "And being a leader to the younger ones, and just the fact people don't come here a lot makes me feel like coming back and getting a lot more people to come."

Hayes was one of 23 children from ages 7-14 who advanced from local and sectional rounds and participated in Saturday's team championship, where they competed for the chance at a trip to the 2016 All-Star Game at Petco Park in San Diego.

All 30 Major League teams will host team championships at their ballparks on weekends through the end of June. The top three competitors nationwide from each division age group (7-8, 9-10, 11-12 and 13-14) will advance to the national finals, which will be held before the T-Mobile Home Run Derby on July 11.

Braves pitcher Matt Wisler, who started Saturday's game against the Cubs, advanced to the national finals in 2001 and finished second in the country.

"It's a very cool opportunity -- not only for the kids, but the parents as well, and even the volunteers," said Bennett Mayfield, a representative for PHR. "Everyone keeps a smile on their face, and that's the main thing.

"[You] let them have a unique opportunity. There's some benefits to it if they continue to keep winning, but at the very least they had a fun event and a very unique experience."

The event consists of a timed sprint from second base to home plate, a hitting-distance competition off a tee, and a strike-throwing competition.

Hayes, from Ooltewah, Tenn., threw five of her six pitches for strikes en route to winning the 13- and 14-year old softball division.

The other winners were Mariah Harrison (7-8 softball), Alayah Sturdivant (9-10 softball), Olivia Shaw (11-12 softball), Benjamin Roberts (7-8 baseball), Russell Haswell (9-10 baseball), Evan Walden (11-12 baseball) and Blaise Smith (13-14 baseball).

After winning the 9- and 10-year-old softball division a year ago and advancing to the national finals, Shaw, from Buford, Ga., said she'd still relish the opportunity to return for All-Star Week this year.

"It would be awesome," she said, "because it's just a fun experience to go and keep doing this."

Pat James is a reporter for based in Atlanta. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.