Hope Mills 12U Dixie Ponytails team brings home World Series title
By Earl Vaughan Jr.
Michael Johnson, head coach of the Hope Mills 12U Dixie Ponytails All-Star softball team, grew accustomed to nervous looks from parents and fans during the World Series that concluded earlier this week in Alexandria, Louisiana.
The Hope Mills team scored some one-sided wins early in the tournament, but in their final three games they often found themselves behind, sometimes by large margins.
But Johnson and the team remained confident, and he had a ready answer for those spectators who were worried. “I would always way, ‘We’ve got them right where we want them,’ ‘’ Johnson said.
In the final game against Georgia, that proved to be especially true. Hope Mills entered the final inning trailing by four runs but responded with eight runs in their last at-bat, then held Georgia scoreless in the bottom of the sixth for an 11-7 win and the Dixie Ponytails 12U championship.
It was the team’s second win over Georgia in three tries in the tournament. Earlier that Tuesday, Georgia handed Hope Mills its only loss in the tournament, 7-2.
Johnson felt that loss was a repeat of what happened in the North Carolina state tournament when they fell to West Chatham before bouncing back to win the championship.
“We just came out flat,’’ he said. The Georgia pitcher was throwing a lot of high fastballs Johnson said, and when his players did make contact, they were only hitting the bottom of the ball, resulting in pop flies and bloopers.
For 10 innings Tuesday, Georgia held Hope Mills to just two runs.
“We just needed a spark,’’ Johnson said. After taking an early 1-0 lead in the final game, Hope Mills got two runs in the fifth inning to cut the Georgia lead to 4-3. But Georgia tacked on three more runs in the fifth to lead 7-3 heading to the final inning.
McKinley “Boo” Kolasa, the Hope Mills catcher, got the rally going when she reached on an error in the top of the sixth.
The offense finally started to click, with Addison Stuart providing the big blow, a two-run double, that finally put Hope Mills ahead 8-7. They tacked on three more insurance runs to take a four-run advantage to the bottom of the inning.
The insurance proved unnecessary as pitcher Kay Brown shut down the Georgia bats, retiring three batters in a row to clinch the title for Hope Mills.
“I think everyone’s adrenalin was so high, we couldn’t have done anything wrong in the bottom of the sixth,’’ Johnson said.
He praised his assistant coaches, Doren Kolasa and Brandon Boone, for their decision-making and keeping the players focused.
In winning the championship – which means Hope Mills is the best team among all the entries from the seven Southeastern states that compete in Dixie softball – the 12U Ponytails became the first Hope Mills girls’ team to take home a Dixie softball championship. Hope Mills Parks and Recreation added Dixie softball to their offerings in 2007.
The 12U Dixie Ponytails join Dixie Youth Baseball teams from the town in 2006 and 2012 as the only Hope Mills state champions.
Plans are taking shape for the Town of Hope Mills to recognize the team.
The Hope Mills town board has tentatively planned to honor the team members at its Monday, Aug.16, meeting. Players, coaches and parents have been invited to attend.
However, some parents have indicated that date is a potential conflict with prior engagements.
The town scheduled the observance to honor the team as soon as possible in response to numerous messages of support for the team it had received. The next available date for a scheduled town board meeting is Aug. 31.
A party is also planned at the Hope Mills Recreation Center following the recognition at the board meeting, whenever it is held.
The town is seeking food donations for the party from local restaurants. Any restaurant willing to help should contact either Stephen Kessinger or Maxey Dove. The numbers are 426-4108 or 426-4105.
The parents were hoping for a parade for the team, and they’ll be getting their wish. They’ll share the stage with Santa Claus as the entire team has been invited to serve as grand marshals for this year’s Hope Mills Christmas Parade. A date for the parade hasn’t been set.
Johnson said he hopes the championship will create more interest in Dixie Ponytails softball, adding that it lets people see that if you stick with it you can go a long way and be successful.
“Recreation ball can help a lot of girls and give them a lot more repetitions to get better,’’ he said. “I think this can help grow Dixie softball in Hope Mills. You’ve just got to be hungry and want it, and we were.’’
• Former state champion wrestler Timmy McCall from South View High School has been named an assistant wrestling coach at North Carolina State.
After graduating from South View, McCall continued his wrestling career at the University of Wisconsin, where he qualified for the NCAA championships as a junior and a senior.
He has been working at N.C. State as a volunteer coach with the wrestling program since 2015.
• The B-Nice To Your Heart soccer jamboree will be held on Saturday, Aug. 14, at South View High School from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. The jamboree is being held as a benefit for the late Brian Edkins, who served as principal at Scotland, South View and Cape Fear High Schools.
All spectators, players and coaches are asked to give a $5 donation that will go to the Brian Edkins Memorial Scholarship.
Play will take place on both the main field at South View and two practice fields. Fans are encouraged to bring lawn chairs as there is a lack of bleacher seating on the two practice fields.
Here is the schedule for the scrimmages:
Practice field 1
9 a.m. – Pine Forest vs. Seventy-First, 10:05 a.m. – Cape Fear vs. Richmond Senior, 11:05 a.m. – Jack Britt vs. Richmond Sr.
Practice field 2
9 a.m. – Jack Britt vs. Cape Fear; 10:05 a.m. – Jack Britt vs. Seventy-First; 11:05 a.m. – Cape Fear vs. Pine Forest.
9 a.m. – Richmond Senior vs. South View; 10:05 a.m. – Pine Forest vs. South View; 11:05 a.m. – Seventy-First vs. South View.