DUBLIN — Could the third time be a charm?
The West Bladen Knights are in Guntersville, Ala., for their third straight Dixie Pre-Majors World Series tournament after winning the North Carolina state championship for the third consecutive year — an accomplishment that has even coach Kim Cain surprised.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d do this three straight times,” he said. “The first year, of course, we were pretty happy; the second year, it kind of surprised us. This time, I don’t know how to explain it other than the kids just kept playing better and better.”
The Knights finished their summer season in North Carolina with a record of 16-5. Starting Saturday, they will be looking to improve on their 1-4 World Series record with a host of veteran players who have “been there” before — including one who will be making his third straight trip.
“Jeremy Hunt is going for the third time, and we’ve kind of leaned on him to tell the first-timers what to expect,” Cain said. “But we also have several who will be making their second trip.”
West Bladen will be carrying a roster of 14 players to Alabama, and the open World Series play at 10 a.m. Saturday against the Alabama state champions.
“Things are a little different this time around,” Cain said. “We know what we’ll be getting into down there. Most of the teams in the tournament are all-star teams, where we are from just one high school. But if we do what we’re capable of, we can play with anybody.”
That recipe starts with the very basics of good baseball: pitching, defense and timely hitting.
“We have to throw strikes, that’s first and foremost,” Cain said. “We have to make the plays and we have to get hits with runners on base. We do those things and we will be successful.”
Can also said the fact that many of the players have World Series experience will be a big advantage this time around.
“There shouldn’t be much of that deer in the headlights stuff,” he said.
One of those players making his second straight trip is Trent West, one of the Knights’ front-line pitchers and top hitters.
“Mostly I’ve been telling the new players how much fun it will be (in Alabama),” West said. “But for me, especially this time, it’s more about the games than the trip. We just want to play good baseball, and I think the attitudes are better this time.”
Caleb Sholar will be making his first appearance in the World Series.
“I’m pretty excited because I’ve been told how fun it is and what a nice place it is (to play baseball,” he said. “And I’ve heard how good the competition will be.”
Cain emphasized just how good that competition will be.
“The first year we went down there, the Tennessee team had eight Div. I signees,” he said. “Not recruits … signees. They had a couple of guys who threw in the mid- to upper-90s. That’s pretty stiff competition.
“But we also played a Georgia team last year who might have had trouble beating a Little League team,” he added. West Bladen beat that Georgia team, 15-0. “So you never know exactly what it’ll be like.”
Cain added that he was happy with how the fundraising efforts went.
“The car washes went well and raffle ticket sales were good, as far as I know,” he said. “The community has really supported us.”
West Bladen will be in Guntersville on Friday for the opening ceremonies — which will include a cookout and fireworks — then open the double-elimination tournament Saturday. A win against the Alabama state champions would put the Knights into the second round on Sunday at 4 p.m. against the winner of Saytrday’s game between Virginia and Mississippi; a loss would send them into the consolation bracket for a 1 p.m. game Sunday against the loser of that Saturday game.
— W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.