Two Columbia County Recreation Department all-star baseball teams will begin play this weekend in the Dixie Boys state tournament at Riverside Park, but this local rivalry won't play out like a diamond version of the Hatfields and McCoys.
The Columbia County National and American league all-star teams will be rooting for each other during the eight-team, double-elimination tournament.
"It's exciting to have two Columbia County teams in it," said American head coach Angel Torres. "Our goal is to get to the finals, and our No. 2 goal is to support the other Columbia County team. Hopefully, we'll both be in the finals."
Columbia County National is the host team for the tournament, and the Americans advanced to state by winning the District 4 title. The squads open with first-round action Saturday, and are in opposite brackets.
Though each county squad wants to see the other fare well, all bets are off if both teams make it to the title game next week (the finals are Tuesday, with an "if" game scheduled for Wednesday).
"I'm looking forward to playing them in the finals," National all-star Gavin Davis said. "We want to go to the World Series."
National League All-Star coach, Greg Davis, talks with his players before practice last week.
Photo by Mike Howell
Along with the Columbia County teams, Valdosta and Lee County are expected to make strong runs at the title.
Only the state champion advances to the Dixie Boys World Series, which will be played early next month in Jackson, Tenn.
Torres has been there, done that - he coached the Dixie Youth team to a World Series title in 2000, and led the Dixie Boys to the World Series championship last summer.
Josh Grant is the only returning player from last year's Dixie Boys team, but some other members of Torres' squad have World Series experience - albeit a disappointing one.
Two summers ago, eight current Dixie Boys American all-stars competed in the Dixie Youth World Series in Virginia, and they were one out away from seizing the title before losing in the finals.
"They were so close two years ago, so they're stepping it up another notch to see how much further they can go," Torres said. "The desire is there. You can see it in their eyes."
Desire is a two-edged sword. Though Torres has a formidable team, the National all-stars have something to prove.
"Compared to the other teams, we're the underdogs coming in, and that's the way I like it. We're working hard right now," National head coach Greg Davis said. "(Columbia County American) has the cream of the crop, but we've got some good athletes. We have about six good pitchers, so I think we'll be fine."
Torres is just as confident in his players.
"These kids are working harder than any I've ever coached before," he said. "This team has a great attitude and great chemistry. Every ballplayer appreciates being on the all-star team."
Columbia County Dixie Boys rosters
American League All-stars: Nolan Belcher; Tyler Bourdo; Robbie Bryant; Brandon Cumpton; Nick Duffy; Josh Grant; Michael Hester; John-Clark Huffman; Kyle Knight; Damien Lucree; Kevin Millward; Tristan Scott; Josh Whitaker; head coach Angel Torres; assistant coach Brian Belcher; assistant coach Dan Hester.
National League All-stars: Taylor Adams; Alex Baur; Zach Boulineau; Gavin Davis; Dustin Duran; Jimmy Lowe; Noah Pulley; Andrew Randolph; Nicholas Richards; Michael Sanders; Eric Schnitzer; Andrew Thompson; Steven Waters; head coach Greg Davis; assistant coach John Waters; assistant coach Alan Thompson.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.