LUMBERTON — For the five Lumberton Youth Baseball Association league champions that earned their way into the field of the 2018 Dixie Youth World Series as host teams, the excitement is there to get to play on the stage.
But the coaches of the five teams don’t want the 11 state champions who enter the event to overlook their teams as well.
The months of practicing with very little playing time for teams in the Coach Pitch, Machine Pitch, AAA, Majors and “O”Zone World Series from Lumberton will finally pay off starting this weekend, and now the teams are ready to show they belong.
The two Lumberton representatives in this week’s Coach and Machine Pitch tournament prep to defend home turf at the Ray Pennington Athletic Complex, while the AAA, Majors and “O”Zone will sit and watch until those tournaments start next week.
Lumberton AAA coach Jeff Nance, like many in the area, knows the implications of this tournament and for the kids representing it. Lumberton-based Contempora Fabrics, who makes the fabric material for Majestic Athletic, the uniform provider for Major League Baseball, produced all the host uniforms for all five teams. With maroon tops and gold letters spelling “Lumberton” across the chest, Nance sees the young athletes as representing more than just their team.
“It’s a good thing for Lumberton to come to this town,” Nance said. “They get to play for Lumberton. They’re not just playing for them, but they get to play for the name on the jersey.”
With Dixie Youth offering both a Coach Pitch tournament, along with a Machine Pitch tournament, many states that do not field Machine Pitch teams can elect for a runner-up teams from their state Coach Pitch tournaments to compete on the Machine side.
Lumberton’s choice came for the tournaments came from a winner-take-Coach-Pitch matchup. Sammy Shackelford’s team came out on the losing end, but he sees the move to faster pitching from a machine as a positive for his players.
“They’ve adjusted well to the speed of the machine and are hitting it really good in practice,” Shackelford said. “Forty miles per hour is a good bit quicker than a coach pitched ball. It’s actually going to help them down the road.”
After that game, the Machine Pitch representatives have elected to focus on the basics and have been practice only for several month, making the tournament’s start on Saturday more the sweeter.
“They’ve stuck to it. Since we’ve finished the season, we’ve just been mainly practicing and it’s been a long road to stick with it,” Shackelford said. “Everybody is ready to be here and play.”
Jorge Reyes coaches the Coach Pitch host team and said his team’s bats will make it a challenge for any team they will face.
“I tell them that we can shock the world,” Reyes said. “We didn’t get to play in these tournaments like these teams did this summer. For us to come in and beat some of these teams it would be a big opportunity for us.”
Reyes said that his team has scrimmaged several local teams to prepare for this tournament and have continued to stay in season shape despite the long wait.
“We hit the ball the where we are supposed to hit the ball and we play defense the way we are supposed to play,” Reyes said. “I feel like we can beat anybody if we play the way we are supposed to play.”
The three older baseball divisions are using the last week to cram in batting practice, fielding practice and whatever else needed at other area fields before the start of the those tournaments on Aug. 4.
“I’m going in to bring the heat on Day One,” Lumberton Majors coach Butch Campbell said. “We are actually going in this trying to win. It’s an honor to be selected as a host team, but this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for most of our kids. So we are not taking it very lightly.
“I’m not being cocky because these are good teams and they’ve got to be good to get this far. We are definitely contenders in the Majors bracket of this tournament.”
Campbell said his team, made up of 11- and 12-year-olds, features nine of its 12 players that can be called on to pitch in any given moment and that it should be formidable going up against the 11 state champions. The Lumberton host teams have not played any Dixie Youth sanctioned games since their season ended, while the other 11 teams competed in district and state tournaments.
“My pitching level is really high,” Campbell said. “We should be able to pitch with the best.”
In place of not being able to continue up the Dixie Youth ranks, the Majors and the other four teams have competed in scrimmages, travel ball tournaments and practiced to stay sharp.
Getting to play at this level is something that “O”Zone coach and LYBA board member Gary Carr is what makes this experience worth it.
“To me it’s priceless seeing these kids get excited and the closer it gets the more I get excited,” Carr said. “This is by far the biggest stage they have played on. I’m not quite sure it’s sunk in yet, but it’s building.”
Carr also feels that his team is capable of surprising teams they go up against with their experience.
“We’ve got a lot of kids that have played ball since they were 5 or 6 years old,” Carr said. “We’ve seen some good travel teams in travel tournaments and beat them. There’s a lot of talent there.”
Carr said that the bats for his “O”Zone team is what makes it a tough opponent.
In the AAA tournament, Nance wants his team to enjoy what they are taking a part in as a lifelong memory.
“They probably won’t get to witness anything like this again,” Nance said. “They are going to do their best, and that’s all I told them to do. I want them to enjoy the moment because it’s a big deal and a great opportunity.”
Nance takes the simplistic approach to getting his team ready for the loaded tournament with the South’s best teams.
“You’ve just got to go out there and play the game,” Nance said. “It’s simple as that. You just have to come out and make routine plays.”
The AAA host team opens play on Aug. 4 at 8 p.m., against Georgia. Pictured on front row: Braylon Hunt, Cam Scott, Bryson Hester, Brady Gavaghan, A.J. Day and Jayden Rush. Middle row: Luke Howell, Noah Britt, JT Hepler, Gavin Mayers, Josh Garner and Mason Nance. Back row: Johnathan Mayers, Jeff Nance and Bradley Phillips.