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Astros hold pre-March Madness basketball tournament

Veteran relief pitcher Joe Thatcher is trying to win a spot on the Astros this year, but he's already secured the title as the best basketball shot on the team -- with a little help from teammate Luke Gregerson.

Thatcher, who features a smooth lefty stroke, combined with Gregerson to win the Astros' basketball shooting contest Sunday morning, beating out designated hitter Chris Carter and outfielder L.J. Hoes in the finals as teammates looked on.

"Thatcher's from Indiana, so he had a little head start on people," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "He was shooting when he was in diapers probably. Gregerson was on his coattails a little bit."

The shooting tournament, which took place along autograph alley at Osceola County Stadium, began early in camp. After a morning meeting Sunday, Astros players surrounded the basket to watch the final four teams take their best -- and in some cases, their worst -- shots. It didn't help that Chad Qualls was using an air horn to distract the shooters.

"These guys are having a good time," Hinch said.

The big upset was when pitcher Dallas Keuchel and catcher Jason Castro were eliminated earlier in the bracket. In the running on Sunday were the lefty team of pitchers Brett Oberholtzer and Darin Downs and the Venezuelan team of Luis Valbuena and Gregorio Petit.

"March Madness is coming pretty soon, and our guys pay close attention to it, and it's fun team-building watching these guys shoot in front of each other," Hinch said.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.