GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. –For the third straight summer, West Bladen High baseball p;layers earned a trip to the Dixie Pre-Majors World Series by winning the North Carolina state championship. And for the third straight summer, the Knights played the part of David to the tournament’s many Goliaths.
“There was a lot of good competition down there (in Guntersville, Ala.),” said West Bladen coach Kim Cain. “The South Carolina team that won it all was a combination of the best players from four 4-A schools and the Arkansas team was an all-star team from around the state.
“And there we were with what little West Bladen has to offer,” he added. “But we competed well.”
The Knights opened the double-elimination tournament with two straight wins — 9-4 over Alabama and 11-1 over Virginia. But a 10-5 loss to eventual champion South Carolina, who scored nine runs in the third inning, and 11-1 loss to the same Alabama team ended their run.
South Carolina defeated Louisiana 13-1 on Wednesday to win the World Series.
“That big inning South Carolina had against us really took the starch out of us,” Cain said. “If we make a couple of plays that inning, we probably win that game and we’re in the top four. But it was really evident in that next game that it really got us down — though the boys never quit battling.”
Several of the West Bladen players had a good tournament — led by Chandler Lennon, who pitched a complete-game win over Alabama in the opener and hit .636 in the four games, going 7-for-11 with a double, triple, six runs scored, two stolen bases and two RBI.
Among those with at least 10 at-bats, Ray Jones hit .500 (5-for-10) with a double and five RBI (which led the team); Jarrett Williams hit .400 (4-for-10) with three RBI; Seth Britt hit .385 (5-for-13) with two stolen bases and three RBI; Donald McCullum hit .300 (3-for-10) with a stolen base and two RBI; and Jeremy Hunt hit .273 (3-for-11) with a double and two RBI.
As a team, the Knights hit .343 (36-for-105) with three doubles, a triple, 26 runs scored, seven stolen bases and 22 RBI.
“I always say that the more you play the better you get,” Cain said. “That goes for anything you do, and I think this team just kept getting better. On top of the 20-some games we played during the high-school season, we played another 27 or so this summer — so that’s a good amount of playing for these kids against some good competition.”
Can said that should result in even more success in the spring.
“We have a real good group of kids coming back,” he said. “And some of them will be playing fall ball first, so along with some long-toss programs and other activities along the way, I look forward to the spring season.”
Now that the World Series experience is over, Cain said everyone really got something out of it.
“I told the kids to be sure and hang on to those jerseys because they will want to someday show their children and grandchildren that they played in the World Series,” Cain said. “It was just a wonderful experience there. Everyone was so nice to us, made us feel welcome. It’s a wonderful place to vacation for anyone who likes the mountains, lake and fishing.
“I know the entire West Bladen baseball family thoroughly enjoyed this trip,” he added.
— W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.