Tab Adkins and Bill O'Donnell are convinced that this Beaufort all-star team has what it takes to succeed at the Dixie Boys World Series, which starts this weekend in Seneca. Sure, as the team's assistant coaches, some might call them biased. But this duo does have a bit of credibility to throw behind its confidence.
Four years ago, Adkins' and O'Donnell's team of Beaufort 13-year-olds were charged with representing South Carolina at the 2005 Junior Dixie Boys World Series. Unfortunately for them, it proved to be a swift experience, as they lost all three of their games before being eliminated.
But Adkins and O'Donnell, who are assisting manager Mike Smith on this year's team, say that was then. As for now, this version of the Beaufort all-stars has given them every reason to be optimistic during their run through the district and state tournaments.
"That first time, we were just happy to be there since we were the first team from Beaufort to make it that far," O'Donnell said. "This team has what it takes, from the pitching to the hitting, to compete with anybody at the World Series."
Added Adkins: "These guys are a year older, a year more mature than that first team was, so I think that will help some. Any team that we have beat so far, we've pretty much broken their spirit, which is a big thing."
However, what's most telling to the Beaufort coaches and players is the way several of their wins have come about.
In the state title-clinching win against Lancaster, there was the five runs produced off zero hits and seven walks. A few games before that, there was the seventh-inning double play to seal a close win against Lexington.
It all amounts to what Smith calls "small ball," where doing the little things allows the bigger goal of victory to surface.
"We took what teams gave us and became a tough team to beat because we didn't beat ourselves," Smith said. "We're known to be a power-hitting team, but it's been timely hits and patience at the plate, where we get some walks, that has come together with our defense and pitching to make the difference."
One other factor will be the health of Luke Smith, the team's closer on the mound. Smith sprained his right hand while attempting to avoid a pickoff throw during the state tournament and had to undergo physical therapy this week. Still, Smith fully expects to play and remain in Beaufort's strong pitching rotation of David Tilton, Joel Fickes and Tony Nolan for the World Series.
And Beaufort will need all the help it can get when it goes up against teams like Alabama, which welcomes back most of its potent players from last year's championship team. A tall order, indeed, faces this Beaufort squad, but with the small things clicking, these players have learned not to shy away from the challenge.
"We're a bit nervous because it's our first time there," Tilton said. "But it gives us confidence to see that we can find ways to win even when we don't play our best. Now, we know more of what we're capable of and hopefully we can get some more wins."
David Tilton - P/3B
Shane Dixon - 3B/LF
Thomas Smith - 2B
Luke Smith - CF/P
Thomas Parker - 2B
Joel Fickes - LF/P
Matt Thorpe - OF
Tony Nolan - SS/P
Dustin Spurlock - RF
Rob Dennis - 1B
Zachary Brown - C
Carson Banks - RF
TODAY'S SCHEDULE IN SENECA
5:30 p.m.: World Series banquet, Cross Creek
7:30 p.m.: Opening ceremonies, Shaver Complex
8:30 p.m.: Home Run Derby, Shaver Complex
9:30 p.m.: Fireworks show
OTHER WORLD SERIES TEAMS FROM BEAUFORT COUNTY
1994 Hilton Head Dixie Boys
Location: Eufaula, Ala.
Age group: 13-14 Record: 1-3
Head coach: Thomas Lauderdale
Notable: This was the first team from Beaufort County to advance to a Dixie Baseball world series.
Players to remember: Chad Johnson, Umberto Espinosa, Marty Wray were among the players who became staples of Hilton Head Island High School's teams in the mid-1990s.
1999 Hilton Head Dixie Youth Majors
Location: Terrell, Texas
Age group: 11-12
Head coach: Larry Page
Notable: This squad became the first in Dixie Youth history to win a World Series title and the Sportsmanship Award in the same year.
Players to remember: Ryan Kelly is a pitcher in the Pirates' minor-league organization, Jeff Ussery plays for Georgia Tech and Chuckie Scarminach and Ryan Radloff played college football.
2001 Hilton Head Dixie Youth Minors
Location: Bedford, Va.
Age group: 10-11
Head coach: John Parker
Notable: Playing in the first World Series for this age group, the minors won two games on the final day to claim the championship, plating the winning runs on Ian Anderson's two-run single in the sixth inning.
Players to remember: Anderson played baseball at Hilton Head Prep but will play college football at the University of Kentucky this fall; Rachel Uremovich became the first female in a Dixie World Series and will play golf at UNC Greensboro this fall; Greg Harrison was the Island Packet/Beaufort Gazette baseball player of the year the past two years and has committed to play at the University of South Carolina.
2005 Beaufort Junior Dixie Boys
Location: Muscle Shoals, Ala.
Age group: 13 and under
Head coach: Tab Adkins
Notable: The first team from the city of Beaufort to advance to World Series play also became the first from Beaufort County to do so without winning a state title -- that season, the state runner-up also got to go.
Players to remember: Several players -- including Thomas Gruel, Matthew Witt and Matthew Guldner at Beaufort High School, Marshall Mahan at Thomas Heyward Academy and Jarrett Owens at Abundant Life -- have gone on to solid high school careers.
2008 Bluffton Junior Dixie Boys
Age group: 13 and under
Head coach: Larry Hindall
Notable: The first team from Beaufort County to play in a World Series as the host team
Players to remember: A number of players from last year's team -- including Ryan Rosenlieb, John Trerotola, Logan Phillips, Marcus Hindall, Joey Molnar and Landon House -- were also on this year's Bluffton team, which handed the state champion Beaufort Dixie Boys team its only loss so far this postseason.