The Phenix City Little League 9-10 National All-Stars will be taking on some of the best young baseball players in the Southeast this weekend as they represent Alabama at the ninth annual Tournament of State Champions in Ceredo-Kenova, W. Va.
"It wasn't even until (Wednesday night) that they realized the magnitude of what they've done because this is as far as they can go in this age group," said Nationals manager Brent Johnson. "There's probably thousands of kids across the country in this age division and this is the biggest stage they can play on. But along with the baseball, this is a chance for the kids to meet other teams and kids from other places and trade pins. The kids are really looking
forward to meet kids from other states and to be honest, they haven't been too worried about the baseball. (Wednesday night) it started sinking in the magnitude of what they've done. I feel like we're competitive enough to get through to at least the semifinals. I feel like our chances are good."
The Phenix City Nationals - making their first-ever appearance at the Tournament of State Champions -- start pool play today at 5 p.m. against Keystone Little League from Odessa, Fla. The second pool play game is Sunday at 2 p.m. versus Oconee Little League of Watkinsville, Ga., and Phenix City closes out preliminary round action Monday at 8 p.m. against Wilson City Little League from Wilson, N.C. The tournament semifinals will be Tuesday and the championship game is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. Wednesday night. All tournament games will be available for viewing through a link on the tournament's Web site, www.mitchstadium.com.
"We're definitely a hitting bunch," said Johnson. "We have some very disciplined hitters and do very well at the plate. We also have an ability to put a lot of kids anywhere on the field, so our lineup options aren't restricted. But I'd say the biggest thing that has made this team so good is they've just jelled as a team and love the game of baseball. Their attitudes are great and they don't get down. They just keep going. I've told people that I've never experienced a group of kids like this where 12 10-year-olds have the same attitude towards the game and keep it fun."
The Phenix City Nationals' march to West Virginia started by winning their district tournament in Roanoke, Ala., by beating Phenix City American, 7-3, in the title game. Phenix City American won the Alabama state title last season and has represented Alabama twice in the Tournament of State Champions.
The Nationals then won the Alabama state tournament in Jackson, Ala., knocking off Huntsville Eastern, 11-9, in the championship game to clinch their trip to the Tournament of State Champions.
"We've played some tough competition," said Johnson. "Phenix City American was the toughest team we played in the district and state tournaments by far. Our district tournament was our toughest competition. We had to beat Huntsville twice to win the state tournament and they just as easily could've won the state tournament. Our boys got to see some adversity. I'm not sure we ever trailed, but the games were definitely closer. They've learned they can't let up. We may not have played as many teams as some other states, but the competition level we've seen will equal what they've played against, I think."
Johnson said he feels his team can fare well in West Virginia, but to do so, it must keep playing the same way that won it district and state championships.
"We just have to be disciplined," said Johnson. "Each of the boys doesn't have to win the game by themselves. Sometimes people want to do it by themselves, but they have to stay disciplined, stay with what they know and be smart about plays they make, which they've done so far. I think if we do what we've done so far, we'll come out on top. Coming through the district and state tournaments, we've kept our composure. We just have to stay disciplined, stay positive and don't panic and I think our talent will win us some games."