On to the next one

Jul. 19, 2013 @ 05:40 AM

Dozens of blue shirts flooded Bojangles Thursday morning as the Rutherford/Chase 50/70 All-Star team gathered for a quick breakfast before loading the van and starting their trek to Spring Hill, Tenn. for the 2013 Intermediate Division Regional Tournament.

After earning the right to represent North Carolina with a state title Monday night, the All-Stars now move on to face state champs from South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, West Virginia, Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Virginia.

“Obviously we’re excited. This is a huge opportunity for our local kids to represent North Carolina,” head coach Curtis Snethen said before the players packed the 15-passenger van. “This group has been playing together for a long time and we have a great group of parents.”

The players, all around the age of 13, have played plenty of baseball together through the years. Having such a familiarity with each other makes this team easily coachable. The team bypassed playing a district tournament before moving directly to the state level, which of course, they won.

“Accomplishing something like this takes a group of kids that are very coachable and parents that can accept the role for their children so they can be successful,” Snethen said. “Because they’ve played together for so long and understand their roles we didn’t really need to play any other teams on the district level. But we found ways to get ready to play.”

Now as the All-Stars continue their summer, the competition only gets stiffer.

“All of the teams will be able to play,” Snethen said. “They’ll be well-coached. They didn’t get in this tournament with an automatic bid, they’ll be giving us some competition.”

However, this group isn’t new to tough challenges.

“We’ve faced adversity before in our last game at the state tournament being down 7-2 and battling back,” Snethen said. “We know we have to play seven innings of baseball and it isn’t over until the last out.”

At a tournament of this magnitude, pitching will be the key for teams that hope to move on.

“I don’t expect to see a lot of runs scored. Everyone is going to be throwing their best pitchers so it’s going to be about match-ups,” Snethen said.

Luckily, the Rutherfordton All-Stars have plenty of arms.

“We have 12 guys that can pitch which is the key to being able to win at any tournament at this level,” Snethen said.

In the end, Snethen said it will be a true team effort.

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“We don’t have any sleepers or anyone who’s just waiting to blossom, everyone here has their role whether it’s defensively, offensively or just to pitch,” Snethen said.

But even more important than the wins and losses, hits and runs or balls and strikes, the next 3-6 days will be about the experience.

“This is probably the last chance they’ll have to do something like this. From this it’ll probably be junior Legion baseball and then after that more Legion or showcase ball,” Snethen said. “This is the last chance they’ll get on a local, volunteer level to represent their county ... I can tell that they’re hungry.”

“As far as I’m concerned, we’re representing Rutherford County,” Snethen added. “This is big baseball country. We represent the county and the sport well.”

Snethen, who not only coaches the team, but also has a son on the roster, understands the process from both angles.

“For parents it’s a proud moment. It’s also a humbling experience because a lot of kids don’t get this opportunity,” Snethen said.

The All-Stars begin pool play today at 10 a.m. against Florida before playing Georgia at 7 p.m. Saturday and finishing up against South Carolina Sunday at 10 a.m.

The top two teams from each four-team pool move on to Tuesday’s semifinal games for a spot in Wednesday’s championship.

“I don’t expect to go down there and lose three games,” Snethen said. “I want to win all three, but I’ll take two. We just want to be in the semifinals.”

For cleanup hitter “Big Joe” Conner, who stands over six feet tall and towers well above his teammates, this tournament could be his last with a group of players that he’s spent the past five summers with. Next summer, Conner will be playing his baseball in Colorado.

“The fact that I’m moving after this season just makes me want to go farther and farther and play the best that I can,” Conner said. “I just want to come out, play as hard as I can and do what I can to help the team win. I want to win this thing.”

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Games will be broadcast live on the web at www.TennesseeSportsNet.com and will be scored using GameChanger at gamechanger.com.