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Hope Mills Dixie Youth Champs head to World Series


A pair of teams from Hope Mills recently captured state championships in Dixie Youth baseball and softball and are headed to the World Series.

The 14U Dixie Boys, coached by Austin “Paco” Fuentes, are already in Sterlington, Louisiana, where they will face the host Monroe team tonight at 6 in their first game.

The Dixie Ponytails 12U softball team will be bound for Alexandria, Louisiana, next week as their tournament runs July 30 to Aug. 6. Their first game is Saturday, July 31, at 9 a.m. versus the South Carolina state champion.

Here’s a quick look at each team:

14U Dixie Boys

This was a busy year for Fuentes, who had to split time between coaching a pair of Dixie Boys teams while also working as a junior varsity and assistant varsity coach for the South View High School baseball team.

He since became the new head baseball coach at Fayetteville Christian School.

Fuentes has a mix of high school freshmen and eighth graders on his team. He has coached most of them with his weekend travel team in addition to their time in the Dixie Boys program.

“All of them are very mature,’’ he said. “You can tell they have all played baseball for a long time.’’

The Hope Mills squad was an offensive powerhouse in the state tournament, going 5-0 and outscoring the opposition 69-17. Columbus County, a traditional Dixie Boys power, suffered its only losses in the tournament to the Hope Mills team.

A trio of players led the Hope Mills team at the plate. Connor Tyner and Kris Willis both batted .529, while Ethan Colletti hit .474. Willis, the leadoff hitter, drove in 11 runs and had nine stolen bases.

Leading the pitching staff were Ethan Nobles and Drew Perdue. In one game that was halted after five innings because of the run rule, Nobles went the distance and struck out 11 of 15 batters, allowing one hit. He also homered.

Perdue went a full six innings in his best outing, striking out seven and allowing three hits and no earned runs.

Fuentes sees playing the host team in the World Series’ first game as a plus for Hope Mills. It’s the only game in the tournament today, and if they win, they’ll only have to play once on Saturday.

All the other teams won’t start until Saturday and all the winners will have to play twice that day.

Dixie Boys puts a strict limit on pitch totals, and Fuentes said the extra day will allow Hope Mills to manage its arms better.

While the team hit the ball well in the state tournament, Fuentes thinks pitching and defense will be the keys to any chance Hope Mills has for a World Series win.

“As long as we play clean and throw strikes, that’s what ultimately will win the game for us,’’ he said. “We can manufacture a run on offense.’’

Fans can follow live video of the games on Facebook by going to the Sterlington Sports Complex home page.

Dixie Ponytails 12U

Coach Mike Johnson is no stranger to Dixie softball. He’s been coaching off and on for 12 years, starting when his eldest daughter played. He took a break, then returned when younger daughter Lizzie Johnson started her playing career.

Lizzie is one of the members of this year’s state championship team that suffered only one loss in the first championship game to West Chatham and was forced to win the “if” game to take the title.

The most crucial thing about Dixie Ponytails softball for Johnson is pitching, and he feels he’s got a lot of it.

“They only allow you so many innings per game and per tournament,’’ he said. “If you don’t have four or five good pitchers you can’t go far.’’

Johnson has five arms in which he’s confident, and multiple players who can play more than one position. In a recent game, his daughter Lizzie played shortstop, catcher and pitcher.

Another major asset on the pitching staff is Xavi Sullivan who plays pitcher, shortstop and catcher.

Kay Brown is a solid at third base and also pitches. In addition, she’s a lefthander. “When I need her on the mound, she’s lights out,’’ Johnson said. He used her in one of the state championship games against a team that hadn’t seen a lefty all season. “That really helped,’’ she said.

Johnson said one of the team’s main strengths is the way they all support each other and keep up enthusiasm.

While he wants the team to have fun at the World Series, he hopes the players can focus on what they will be trying to do. “We’ve got to stay locked in,’’ he said. “We’ve got to know why we are there.’’

By Earl Vaughan Jr.