John Sandlin figures his 2008 Dixie Youth team was a little overwhelmed during its trip to the O-Zone World Series.
The coach of the Columbia County North All-Stars was leading a group of mostly 11-year-olds then. The team drew the defending national champions the first game and never really got on track.
"It's really not an 11-year-old tournament," Sandlin said. "But now they got their shot."
Columbia County North, a year older and with several new pieces, won the Dixie Youth O-Zone state tournament Friday at Riverside Park. Sandlin's team beat the Columbia County Nationals 9-0 in the final game to clinch a berth in the World Series, which starts Aug. 1 in Texarkana, Ark.
The trip provides another opportunity for those who traveled to Pascagoula, Miss., a year ago.
"Hopefully, we have a chance," said Columbia County North third baseman Jordan Lilly, who was 2 for 3 with an RBI during the championship game.
The North enters the World Series after outscoring opponents 95-1 during the state tournament. The toughest opposition came from the county's other representative.
The two Columbia County teams had faced each other two days prior to the deciding game, with the North winning 5-0. The Nationals felt they could be competitive in the rematch.
"We thought we were going to win at the beginning," said Nationals leadoff hitter Connor Dowling, who pitched the final two innings. We did our best to win it."
North pitcher Raekwon Bennett shut down the Nationals' bats, pitching all six innings and striking out 10.
A thunderstorm stopped play for more than an hour after the third inning. A strong wind blew the chalk lines away and a steady rain left puddles in the infield. Parents and players fled for their cars and many left for a meal while they waited.
Columbia County Recreation Department employees treated the field with Quick Dry to absorb the puddles and two rainbows arched over the field as the teams prepared to resume play. The Nationals got to Bennett after the break, loading the bases with no outs in the top of the fourth. A line-out turned into a quick double play, and Bennett forced the next batter to ground out and end the threat.
He struck out three batters the rest of the way, including two during the final inning. After the last strike one was called, North players met in a dogpile near home plate, then posed for pictures behind a large banner proclaiming them Dixie Youth O-Zone state champions.
Columbia County starts practice for the World Series this week, and leaves for Arkansas on July 30.
"It feels great," Bennett said. "I'm just ready."
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