Headland 12U Dixie Majors all-star coach Justin Hughes credits mostly two elements to the success of his World Series-bound team – relentless drive and the recent winning history at a higher level.
“I believe it is the drive of the kids,” Hughes said of his team, which won the Alabama state title this past weekend to earn a trip to the World Series. “They want to win. As a coach, you can only do so much and you are sitting on the side of the field, but this group wants to win. There are a lot of leaders on the team that help pick up (the team). Instead of the coaches, it is the kids leading.”
Hughes also believes the recent success of the Headland High baseball team, which won 50 games the last two years and made deep state playoff runs, has also motivated members of his team.
“The success the Headland High School team has definitely put a lot of drive in these kids,” Hughes said. “They are all right there at the age of starting (middle) school ball. I know a bunch of them follow the high school team and look up to the high school team something serious.”
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The Headland all-stars clinched their World Series trip by winning all three state tournament games in Demopolis this past weekend, outscoring their opponents 44-5. They beat Dallas County 14-0 in the opener on Friday and defeated host Demopolis 14-4 on Saturday before winning the tournament title with a 16-1 win over Dallas County on Sunday.
They compete in the Division I Majors World Series in Ruston, La., Aug. 4-9. They open play on Friday, Aug. 4 at noon against the Louisiana state runner-up, which will be determined this weekend. Their second game will be the following day at 4 p.m.
“I believe the strength of the team is playing together,” Hughes said. “Like for instance, our team batting average for the tournament was .600, so it is not about hitting the long ball. Everybody you put up at the plate is putting that ball in play. I told them when I first started coaching them that their job was to put the ball in play. It is not about how far you can hit, but just put the ball in play and let’s see what happens.”
As an illustration of that, Headland hit only one homer (by Andrew Hughes) during the three state tournament games and still scored 44 runs.
The all-star team, which also played together in a round-robin tournament and a couple of other games before the state tournament, plays at a constant level, said Hughes.
“In the first inning against Demopolis, we got down 2-0 and them boys didn’t shake up,” Hughes said. “They don’t pay attention to the scoreboard. They play with the same intensity if they are up 10 or down 10. They stay constant.”
In addition to the strong hitting, Hughes said the Headland all-star team is strong in some important areas. He said the team has seven capable pitchers and four strong catchers.
“In 12U, that is the name of the game – pitching and catching. If you don’t have them, you won’t go far,” Hughes said.
The pitching is led by aces Landon Cook and Nolen Fair. Hughes said Cook “has a cannon” and is pushing 70 miles per hour on pitches despite being just 12 years old. Lane Kirkland, who came within one inning of a no-hitter in the first Dallas County game, is another strong pitcher.
Behind the plate, Levi Lambert is the team’s top catcher, said Hughes.
“We have played roughly 25 innings and he has allowed only six balls to pass,” Hughes said. “In the majors in the league we are in, you can’t lead off (base). You have to stay on the bag, so if the catcher lets the ball pass, they are taking that next base, but as long as you keep that ball in front of you, you pretty much hold them on the base.”
With a couple of weeks before the World Series, Hughes said the team will try to keep sharp with plenty of practices.
“We are going to practice four times a week – one hitting practice, one fielding practice and two pitching practices,” Hughes said. “We have to hammer that pitching and catching.”
Team members are Lake Barnes, Macen Brown, Lane Cook, Evan DeShazo, Nolen Fair, Preston Fennell, Andrew Hughes, Memphis Kendall, Lane Kirkland, Levi Lambert, Cam Sanders and Gavin Thompson. Assistant coaches are Jason Thompson and Eric Lambert.