John Mahan doesn't see traits in his Beaufort Dixie Junior Boys all-star team that other teams might enjoy.
Many of these select groups have played together for a long time, and forged a camaraderie through travel ball and other outlets. But not this Beaufort group, said their manager.
A small pool of players to form the squad and some position shuffling created challenges during the team's early stages. But Beaufort showed Mahan signs of progress this week, ending with its 4-1 victory Friday over Summerville to win the District 1 championship at Burton Wells Park.
Both Beaufort and runner-up Summerville will advance to next week's Dixie Junior Boys (13-and-under) state tournament in Aiken. The tournament starts July 16.
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"We had a lot of different pieces we had to plug in," Mahan said. "Every day, it's getting better."
Beaufort won Friday by playing a clean defensive game after jumping on Summerville early. A three-run first inning gave Beaufort the cushion it needed. Catcher Jason Senn drove in a pair of runs and left fielder John Sturgis added an RBI single during the rally.
"We came with the approach saying we didn't want to strike out, didn't want to get out," Senn said. "We just wanted to hit. We were all making contact."
Beaufort's defense made the early lead stick.
Pitcher Conner Gruel had not thrown during the tournament and was recovering from elbow soreness suffered during middle school season. His recreation league coaches told him not to try to throw until he was ready, even if he felt 95 percent there. And so Friday, when Mahan called Gruel with the suggestion he start, Gruel told him he was ready.
Avoiding breaking balls, Gruel worked his fastball on the outside corners and Summerville hitters never adjusted.
Gruel threw four innings, allowed three hits and only one run. He struck out two.
Summerville managed second and third with one out during the fourth, but Gruel wiggled out. Sturgis earned the save with three scoreless innings.
"I threw one breaking ball that slipped," Gruel said. "I didn't throw any after that. I wasn't worried about it. They couldn't catch up to my fastball."
Mahan said Beaufort struggled with walks during the team's win against Hilton Head, which earned 13 free passes during the game. The control issues were a result of allowing pitchers plenty of rest to keep their arms healthy.
He said he hoped the staff could find a balance next week between staying sharp and not getting hurt.
Beaufort 4, Summerville 1
Summerville 010 000 0-- 1 4 3
Beaufort 301 001 0 -- 4 6 1
WP: Conner Gruel 4 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 2 K
LP: Tim Brock 4 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 K
Hitters: Beaufort-- Jason Senn 2 for 3, 2 RBI, SB; Porter Mahan 2 for 2, R