North Carolina might have breezed to this point in the Dixie Boys World Series, but Monday after another victory, the team's players and coaches lingered in shallow right field long after the John Deere rake began motoring around the infield.
This trip is about unfinished business for North Carolina. And coaches wanted players to remain cohesive as a team.
The squad from Brunswick County, N.C., defeated Mississippi 13-3 in five innings to remain undefeated. The Tar Heels will face host Beaufort today at 4 p.m. in a battle of unbeatens.
"We talked about staying a family," said North Carolina catcher Shak Graham, who led the fourth inning with a solo home run. "We're so close. We have to stay a family -- don't fall apart."
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Mississippi lost for the first time and will play the South Carolina state champions from Surfside Beach today in an elimination game.
Several members of Brunswick County's squad played in the Dixie Youth Minors as 10-year-olds. And two years ago, North Carolina surrendered a seven-run lead in the bottom of the sixth inning of the Dixie Youth Majors championship game and lost to Surfside Beach.
North Carolina coach Bobby Scoggins said the North Carolina team benefited this year from a realignment of its local pool of players, that some counties were lost but others added.
"We're hoping that's going to put us over the hump," Scoggins said.
Scoggins' team is off to a solid start. North Carolina has scored 40 runs over three games. It defeated Texas 9-1 Monday morning in a game continued from Sunday due to weather.
As it prepares for its fourth game in as many days, Scoggins said all of his pitchers would be available for Beaufort, including ace Shelton Perkins.
Perkins entered during the third inning Monday to squash a Mississippi rally, striking out his first batter to end the third and facing the minimum batters the rest of the way. Perkins struck out five in 2 1/3 innings.
"We talked about how it's going to be harder and harder for us to win," said North Carolina leadoff man Kevon Perkins, who was 2 for 3 Monday with three runs scored. "Pitchers' arms are getting tired and everything else. This is the easy part. Now we get to the hard part."
North Carolina used a six-run fourth-inning to deflate Mississippi, chasing Marion County starter DeMarcus Evans.