COVINGTON -- Even though the Newton County 13- and 14-year-old team didn't have to go through the vigorous challenges of qualifying to play in the World Series starting on Aug. 4, that does not mean they're not ready to win it all.
"We're the host team so we don't get to go through the district portion or the state level," Denny Hewell, head coach of the of the Newton County Dixie All-Stars, said. "We advance straight to the World Series. It takes a special group of kids to come together for that one tournament that one week in August and get it done."
In order to get ready for the level of baseball they'll see in the 12-team tournament, Hewell set up several scrimmage games against the other team from Newton County, which will play in the tournament starting Saturday in Columbus to try to be the Georgia team. They will also play in several 16-over age group tournaments.
The tournament will see state champions from North and South Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas, Virginia, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas.
Hewell feels that being the host team is an advantage with the other teams having to break their routine. The only drawback to hosting the series at City Pond Park is that school starts the day before the tournament. However, it's still better than the alternative of not being at home.
"They'll have the weekend to play, which is good, but starting Monday any of those games, they'll be in school all day then at the baseball field that night. That will be a little bit of their routine being disrupted. But even going to school, to be able to sleep in your bed, eat supper at home and be with your family is enough," Hewell said.
While winning the series is a true team effort, the four-player pitcher rotation will probably be handled by Blake Shope, Austin Taylor, Grady Ritchey and Nick Womack.
"They are four excellent pitchers that I know I'll be using," Hewell said. "Then from there we'll have to see how the tournament progresses and where we are."
The rest of the positions and who plays them will be determined by who is on the mound. But Hewell is not concerned, as each player on the team has the ability to play at least two positions effectively, a luxury he can take advantage of whenever he needs to.
Vying for one of the other eight spots are Conner Hewell, Jacob Jones, Jared Jones, Hunter Phillips, William Powell Jr., Philip Rowe, Marquell Stevens and Michael Terry Jr.
"They know they're all fighting for nine spots on the field and they all want to contribute. It makes for good baseball. I could bat any one of these 12 kids. They would work in lead-off as well as clean-up or in the eight hole," Hewell said.
"We're extremely excited and looking forward to it. Hopefully, everybody will come out and support us and be ready for some good baseball."