After winning the Dixie Ponytails fastpitch softball state title, the Columbia County Recreation Department National League All-star squad took on a new name: Team Georgia.
Now Columbia County National has a new theme song: Sweet Home Alabama.
The National all-stars swept three games earlier this month in Monroe County to win the state title and earn a berth in the Dixie Ponytails World Series, which will be played in Trussville, Ala.
"I'm excited," CC All-star Brittany Munnerlyn said of the upcoming trip to the heart of Dixie. "We're going to have fun and eat some good food."
The World Series for 12-and-under players is Aug. 3-9, and features a double-elimination format. Team Georgia opens play Saturday against South Carolina.
"The recreation department let us know in our meeting that, if we were to win it, we'd be the first girls team from Columbia County to win a Dixie World Series championship," Columbia County head coach Jeff Munnerlyn said. "If we could go all the way, that would give future girls' teams in the county the same advantages as the boys."
Columbia County has a strong history in Dixie baseball dating back to the 1980s, while recreation department softball teams began playing Dixie fastpitch in 1997.
Capturing a Dixie Ponytails World Series crown won't be easy for Columbia County. There will be 12 all-star teams from 11 states vying for the title in Trussville, and since the first Dixie Ponytails World Series in 1976, only five states have earned championships - and Georgia isn't one of them.
Alabama teams dominate in Dixie, having won the Ponytails World Series 12 times. Tennessee, with five titles, is a distant second. Montgomery AUM Green is the defending champion.
The Columbia County all-stars weren't worried about the odds during a practice last week at Patriots Park. None of the team members have any World Series experience, but the players were still giddy about winning the state title, and are ready to take on the world.
In unison, the players said they expected to advance to the World Series, and they all plan to miss some class when school starts on Aug. 7. If Columbia County makes it to the championship game, the players would miss three days of school.
"I don't want to miss any school, but it will be worth it. We have the best players," said pitcher Liana Wuchte, who chalked up 24 strikeouts and two wins at state, including a no-hitter in the finals against Perry Junior League.
"We're going to go all the way," said Nicki Kinner, who also had a starring role during the state tournament.
In the last inning of game one against Perry, Nicki stepped to the plate. With runners on second and third, Perry attempted to issue an intentional walk, but Nicki would have none of that - she reached out and swatted a single to give Columbia County a 5-4 win.
"After the game I asked her, 'Do you realize they were trying to walk you?,"' Coach Munnerlyn said. "And she said, 'Yes, sir. I just got as close to the plate as I could and figured if the pitch was close enough I was gonna swing."'
Center fielder Alana Dyson contributed three hits in game one, and in a 13-8 win in game two, catcher Mariah Bohannon went 3 for 4.
Along with savvy hitting, Columbia County gained momentum by playing stellar defense at state, including the play of infielder Mira Wattar, who took the bunt away from Perry in the title-clinching 2-0 win.
Intangibles even played a part in Monroe County; Ashley Barden was injured in warmups before the state finals, the team dedicated the game to her, and promptly took the title.
Team Georgia's strength, though, may be the pitching staff of Liana Wuchte, Laura Brown, Kassie Bailey, Kaitlain Hill and Brittany Pearson.
At last week's practice, the National all-stars were a bundle of energy, and the players exhibited no nervous tension about their Alabama debut.
"My mom said all we do at the World Series is get a ring," Kaitlain said.
Still, Columbia County's Danielle Hernandez was a little worried about one thing - Friday's opening ceremonies, when all the players are introduced.
"I don't like that," Danielle says. "I don't want my name shouted out to the world."
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