Mark Johnston takes batting practice Tuesday as the South Lake Charles 11- and 12-year-old all-stars prepare to play in the Little League Southwest
Regional this weekend in Waco, Texas. (Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 01, 2012 7:05 PMIn 2008, this year’s South Lake Charles team watched the 12-year-old all-stars advance to the grand stage of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
The group of eager 8-year-olds knew they wanted to achieve that same milestone when their time came, and they held on to that goal for the next four years.
Now they’re on the cusp of earning that coveted berth in Williamsport, as SLC begins its journey in the Southwest Regional tournament Friday in Waco, Texas. Their first opponent is New Mexico’s Petroglyph Little League team based in Albuquerque, with first pitch slated for 5 p.m. at Norcross Stadium.
Manager Selwyn Joubert said his team lives by one singular motto this season — “one team, one dream.” They had to summon every last effort to knock out Lafayette in the Louisiana state tournament, needing two straight victories (13-4 and 7-0) against that team after losing a 6-4 decision.
“It was a hard task,” Joubert said. “I’m glad we took a loss early so they know we can be beat. I explained to them, ‘I expect you to miss the ball, I expect you to strike out, I expect you to walk a batter; my thing is what you can do after that.’”
Pitcher Bryan Lawrence answered that call by tossing 5 1/3 innings of one-hit ball in the clinching shutout of Lafayette. Lawrence is one of 11 pitchers on SLC’s team of 14 players, and he said keeping mentally tough was crucial to shutting down Lafayette.
“It was pretty hard. I had to keep my mind focused on every pitch and hitting my spots,” Lawrence said. “My defense backed me up and played a great game. I’m only 12, and it feels great to represent not just SLC, but the whole Louisiana to go to Waco and play. If we play our best, we think we can win it all.”
Such pitching depth of his team is invaluable for Joubert. He said pitch counts aren’t a concern because they’ve got such a crop of fresh arms.
And they’re not just fresh, Joubert said. The pitching staff is downright good.
“We scored 122 runs and only gave up 12 or 13 (in the state tournament),” Joubert said. “Any one of our kids is capable of putting the ball over the fence, so we don’t worry about the scores. One swing of the bat can get us back in the game.”
Joubert has coached this particular team of all-stars since they were 5 years old, so they’ve grown together, making the excursion to Waco all the more memorable.
After taking on New Mexico, SLC will play against Mississippi at 5 p.m. Saturday and against Arkansas at 8:30 p.m. Monday. Joubert said winning two of the three games will likely garner SLC an appearance on ESPN2 as the last four teams standing next week will vie for one spot in the LLWS (Aug. 16-26).
Pitcher/third baseman Logan Guillory said he can’t wait to take the field with his teammates.
“It’s going to be like a dream come true,” Guillory said. “If we can be on TV and get everybody back home to root for us, it will be pretty special. We’re going to be nervous and have butterflies, but I think we’ll get over it.”
And if they can make it to Williamsport, there will be an extra incentive for Guillory and company.
“We wouldn’t have to come to school on time, so that would be really awesome,” he said.
Now the dreams of the SLC Little Leaguers are on the line. They’ve waited four years for this.