The journey continues…

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 15, 2010

Through seven games, the Dixie Boys have yet to suffer defeat.

Troy ran through both the Sub-District and District tournaments, winning both in convincing fashion.

Now, the team will look to take the next step in their journey to the World Series.

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But that next step will be a big one, as it will travel to Scottsboro today to compete against Daphne in the first round of the State Tournament.

“We have had a good week of practice,” head coach Sam Kitchens said Wednesday afternoon.

“When we came back on Monday, they got serious. We have been really looking to improve on the little things, like small ball – we are just trying to get ready for the next level,” he said.

The last time the team was in action was a week ago, in the District championship, when Troy took out Geneva by the score of 6-2.

In that game, Troy’s pitching played as much of a role in the victory as the late-inning heroics at the plate.

Blake Craft started the game on the mound, and even though he struggled at first, he finished strong as he set down 15 batters in a row to end his night on the mound, 10 of those falling victim to strikeouts.

John Michael Stephens followed Craft’s lead, pitching the remaining five innings of the game, giving up jus three hits, while striking out five.

Like it was in the previous tournaments, Kitchens believes pitching will be important this weekend as well as the plays made behind the mound.

“Our pitchers have done a great job of throwing strikes so far, and our defense has done a great job of making plays in the field,” the coach said. “That’s one thing that I am most proud of – the team’s ability to made plays defensively.

“But it is going to have to continue if we want to win,” he added.

Even though the team will enter the third round of tournament play undefeated, Kitchens said it is something that he doesn’t want his team focusing on too much.

“In one respect, it could be something that makes the team work harder and want to win even more,” he said about staying undefeated.

“But it is tough to do that, especially in tournament play. The one thing I have talked to the team about is making sure we always play our best and the kids understand that.

“If we do lose, we want to lose to a good team and not to a team that we should have beaten but didn’t because we didn’t play our best,” Kitchens said.

This is not the first time many of the players have been this far in the tournament season.

Both Craft and teammate John Johnson were a part of last year’s World Series championship team, and both know the importance of playing their best at this level.

“As long as we play our game, we will be alright,” Craft said.

“We have got to be able to pitch, field and hit well, and I know the guys on this team can do that.”

Like Craft, Johnson believes his team is capable of winning another tournament.

“We are all very excited,” he said.

“The chemistry this team has makes a big difference though. There are no stars on this team – everyone plays a big role in helping the team win.”

While the team has remained perfect so far, it is not without a few scares here and there.

In both games against Geneva, Troy had to fight an early deficit to win, and games like that are going to be another important factor for the team in Scottsboro, according to the coach.

“Those two games were character builders for us,” Kitchens said.

“They both showed that we have the ability to come from behind and win, which is huge.”

Daphne and Troy will face off in Scottsboro today at 8 p.m.