In one week most Columbia County students will be enjoying their final weekend of summer vacation.
For a group of 25 Columbia County boys, the start of the 2006-07 school year will have to wait at least a few days.
The official back-to-school date is Aug. 4, but that's the day when the two Columbia County all-star teams will leave for Grand Prairie, Texas for the 2006 Dixie and Junior Dixie Boys Baseball World Series.
"They will have to miss school so that's breaking their hearts," said John Sandlin, the coach of the 13-U Columbia County All-Stars. "The longer we're there the more school they miss, so that's quite an incentive."
Both Columbia County all-star teams, one playing in the 13-and-under junior Dixie division and the other in the 14-and-under Dixie division, earned a spot to the World Series after winning their state tournaments earlier this month. Sandlin and his 13-and-under team swept through the state tournament in LaGrange by outscoring their opponents 39-8. The top highlight for the Dixie junior squad came from a 29-2 blowout win over Valdosta.
"They're Columbia County's rival," Sandlin said. "It was just one of those nights. It'll probably never happen again. In every age group, it's Valdosta, Columbia County and Lee County that's always playing and knocking heads."
In the 14-and-under state tournament, the Columbia County All-Stars breezed through with an undefeated 4-0 record. Harlem's Phillip Summers pitched a complete-game shutout despite a one-hour rain delay in a 5-0 win in the championship game.
Head coach Charlie Blackwell said Summers and Greenbrier's Chad Farmer did the majority of the pitching, but it was the hitting that punched his team's ticket to the World Series.
"I'm not going to say we were surprised, but I was pretty pleased at how well we hit the ball," Blackwell said. "We had double digits in hits in all four games."
By the time the rest of Columbia County's 13- and 14-year-olds sit down for their first class of the 2006-07 school year, the all-star baseball players will already be well on their way to Texas. They'll begin their trip to the Dixie and Junior Dixie World Series at 6 a.m. that morning.
The two-day bus trip will stop in Grand Prairie, Texas, just outside of Dallas. The return trip date depends on how well the teams play. If all goes according to plan, the Junior Dixie Boys will play for a World Series title at 5 p.m. on Aug. 10. The Dixie Boys hope for a similar final game at the same time.
In order to reach that point, Blackwell said, the job must be done from the mound.
"No. 1 is the pitching depth," he said. "You go to a World Series level, 12-team double-elimination tournament, you've got to have five pitchers who can throw for you. We legitimately have about eight kids who can throw - five left-handers."
On the 13-and-under team, Sandlin said his team's experience will help.
"This team just won the USSSA state six weeks ago, so they've got a lot of experience," he said. "It's great that we're representing Georgia. We've always wanted to do that."
In its first game of the Junior Dixie Boys Baseball World Series, the 13-and-under team will face Alabama on Aug. 5 at 4 p.m.
The Dixie Boys Baseball World Series will kick off with the 14-and-under Columbia County All-Stars taking on Virginia on Aug. 5 at 1 p.m.
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