Blythewood captures World Series title

Thirteen players and four coaches made Blythewood league history when they won the Dixie Youth World Series AAA title, the first ever to do so. | Photo: Savannah Wilburn

LUMBERTON, NC – Fresh off their 4-8 loss against Alabama in the Championship game, Blythewood’s ‘we ready’ chant echoed around the field from their huddle on the pitcher’s mound.

It was an attempt to shift momentum back before they faced the Alabama team in a second championship game.

 And it worked. They were ready.

The Blythewood team put up three runs in the bottom of the first and never looked back, clinching the Dixie Youth Baseball AAA World Series title with a 10-3 win over Alabama.

The road to that moment, however, was a long one, and not always a smooth ride.

Head coach Marshall Dinkins says the team’s journey actually started when these players were just seven years old.

“Lots of hot weather,” Dinkins said. “Sweating through summer five days a week, multiple tournaments. It’s really a credit of a long, four-year commitment.

“We had a certain goal we wanted to reach and all the players, parents, coaches and our Blythewood community helped us to achieve it. Our players and parents were dedicated to the practice schedule and committed to all of the vigorous, long late-night practices.”

And, like the detailed coach he is, Dinkins made sure to give credit to his top supporter.

“I would not have an opportunity to coach without the support of my wife, Lindsay,” he said. “She did so much behind the scenes work that she will never get credit for, and I would like to thank her for that.”

Cruz, Dinkins, Blackwelder and O’Donnell

Dinkins and the team saw the beginnings of the return on their investment early this summer when they went 4-0 to capture the district title and advance to the state tournament.

In the opening inning of their state tournament play, catcher Carter McCune went out with a stomach bug and missed the next three games. The team shifted to cover for McCune’s absence and battled through to become only the third team from the Blythewood Youth Baseball and Softball League (BYBSL) to take the state title.

Dinkins said the coaching staff of Matt O’Donnell, Justin Blackwelder and Fred Cruz really stepped up and helped the team prepare for the World Series. Aside from practice, the coaches studied the teams they would eventually face in the World Series in an effort to give Blythewood an edge.

“We have the best coaching staff,” Dinkins said. “They worked as hard as the players to give them their best chance to compete. I can’t thank them enough for the long conversations we had and in-game decisions we made throughout so many months to make this team as good as possible.”

Preparation was key, but not everything went according to plan.

World Series Obstacles

When Dinkins arrived at the team’s hotel in Fayetteville a night ahead of the team, a shooting had occurred there just minutes before. Dinkins called an audible, and relocated the team to a hotel in Latta, SC the next morning. They practiced each day in Dillion, SC and drove to Lumberton, NC to play.

More changes came in the opening inning of the World Series against Louisiana.

Batting second in the line-up, first baseman Walker Blackwelder was hit in the eye by a pitch, ending his tournament play with multiple fractured bones and a concussion.

The moment was one that really tested the players, probably the toughest of the season, Dinkins said.

“EMS was taking Walker out on a stretcher, and every kid in the dugout was upset.”

And rightly so. As Dinkins and the coaching staff worked to refocus players from the scary situation to the game, Blythewood’s next batter hit into a double play to end the inning.

“The momentum shifted,” Dinkins said. “The train started to go off the tracks.”

But the team responded. After moving fielders around to cover for Blackwelder’s absence at first base, Blythewood held Louisiana scoreless in the top of the second and then put up nine runs in the bottom of the inning to take the momentum back. They topped Louisiana 12-2 in just four innings.

The next morning another player went down, this time with food poisoning.

“It was complete chaos,” Dinkins said of their first days in Lumberton, “but every player stepped up. They showed up and played, and they played as one.”

Dinkins said the team really honored the game with the way they prepared for the tournament, the way they played and the way they faced those obstacles.

Championship Series

And for the most part, the Blythewood team cruised to the championship game after those first few days. They defeated Mississippi 15-0, Alabama 12-1 and Virginia 11-1 each in only four innings played.

They continued to avoid what Dinkins called ‘the bad inning’. But they met up with it in their Thursday morning championship game against Alabama.

With one loss already on their record, Alabama entered the title game in true underdog fashion. They would have to beat Blythewood twice to take the title.

With a 2-1 lead, Alabama had a big five-run third inning to go up 7-1.

Blythewood rallied to put up two of their own in the third. Alabama added another run in the top of the sixth. Down 8-3, Blythewood couldn’t muster enough runs to overcome the deficit in their final at bat, and Alabama took the 8-4 win and forced a second game.

“We weren’t devastated,” Dinkins said. “We looked at game one as a positive, not a negative. We knew what kind of team we had.”

Still with their full arsenal of pitchers, Blythewood knew that Alabama’s number one and number two pitchers were spent.

“All of our arms were available because our offense put up runs all tournament. Our offense kept us from having to deviate from our pitching plans. That’s why we were ready to go in game two,” Dinkins said. 

That, and another audible called by Dinkins and staff, who knew the team needed an energy spark heading into the rematch.

Instead of their usual fielding practice before game two, the SC team trashed their five-minute routine warm up and got back in the driver’s seat.

Dinkins started it off with a dinger over the centerfield fence, then the players rushed the mound to huddle and sing ‘we ready’ before breaking into their ‘Who are we? SC’ team chant.

 It was just the edge they needed. When they broke from the mound to start the game, Blythewood stepped on the gas.

“We have never played with more energy than in that final game,” Dinkins said.

Holding Alabama scoreless until the fifth, the SC team tore up the bases in their first four at bats. By the time Alabama got on the board, Blythewood held a 9-2 lead.

The excitement lasted until the final out. With one out and Alabama runners on first and second, Lucas Baker made a sliding catch on a line drive to right, then threw out the runner headed to second for a double play to end the game.

And with that, Blythewood became the first team in BYBSL’s 45 year history to win a Dixie Youth Baseball World Series title.

Photo: BYBSL

Champions

“It was like a dream,” Dinkins said. “It was pretty surreal. A pretty powerful moment.”

A powerful moment for a powerful team. Throughout their sixteen game stretch, Blythewood lost only one game. They outscored their opponents 172-29, tallying 175 hits and batting in 130 runs.

And when Dinkins says it was a team effort, he means it. The team’s batted a combined .435, and their on base percentage was .516.

Blythewood’s offensive output was matched by their defensive production. With a 1.312 earned run average, the SC team’s pitching staff struck out 91 batters and averaged only 1.94 walks per game. Besides having a depth of arms, Blythewood’s fielders finished with a .943 fielding percentage.

Baseball great Hank Aaron said, “In playing ball, and in life, a person occasionally gets the opportunity to do something great. When that time comes, only two things matter: being prepared to seize the moment and having the courage to take your best swing.”

Team SC, you did it. You seized the moment, took your best swing and achieved greatness. Congratulations!

SC 11, Virginia 1

SC – 2-2-2-2-0-3 – 11, 15, 1

VA– 1-0-0-0-0-0 – 1, 3, 5

WP: Wilburn

Hitters: Gilchrist 3-4, RBI. Bottar, 1-3. Waters 1-3. O’Donnell 2-3, RBI. Wilburn 2-4, RBI. McCune 1-2, RBI. Lloyd 2-4, 2B, 3 RBI. Vincent 1-3. Von Plinslky 1-1.

SC 4, Alabama 8

AL – 0-2-5-0-0-1- 8, 9, 1

SC – 1-0-2-0-0-1 – 5, 6, 2

HITTERS: Gilchrist 1-3. Waters 2-3, 2B, 2 RBI. O’Donnell 1-3, RBI. Wilburn 1-3. Von Plinsky 1-1.

SC 10, Alabama 3

AL – 0-0-0-0-2-1 – 3, 11, 4

SC – 3-1-3-2-1-X – 10, 11, 1

HITTERS: Gilchrist 1-2, 2B. Waters 3-3, RBI. O’Donnell 1-1, RBI. Wilburn 1-1, RBI. McCune 1-2, 3B, 2 RBI. Lloyd 2-3, 2B, 3B. Vincent 1-3, 3B. Von Plinsky 1-1.


Related: World Series win nearly 50 years in the making, Blythewood All-Stars to play for World Series title on Thursday, The best-laid plans… Blackwelder’s DYB World Series not as expected, Town hosts send-off for BW All-Stars, Blythewood Minors headed to World Series

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