As they prepared for the Dixie Baseball Junior Boys (age 13) All-Stars World Series, many Spring Hill players repeated a similiar mantra.
It seemed to those young men, who had come agonizing close to capturing the World Series title as the runners-up at the “O”Zone (age 11-12) level a year ago, it was a win-or-bust mentality.
This past week competing in Aiken, S.C., the county crew made sure to avoid any disappointment this time around, sweeping through six games in impressive fashion to become World Series champs.
“It felt great. It’s really good to be on the other side of it this year,” Spring Hill head coach Joe Abbadessa said. “After putting in years of trying to get this done and finally winning it; words can’t describe it. It was surreal. It was like everything was in slow motion.
“This team was as motivated a team as you’ll ever see. … They were driven and worked as hard as they could possibly work from 12 months ago when we were eliminated in the final (”O”Zone) game.”
Just as in states last month in Marianna, when Spring Hill went 4-0 by a combined 58-7, the local bunch was hardly challenged and rarely trailed.
It started with an 8-1 victory over North Augusta, S.C. in the opening round Aug. 1. The next day, Spring Hill defeated Sumter County, S.C. in a blowout, 17-7.
A Monday doubleheader proved no problem. Spring Hill first took care of Enterprise, Ala., 7-3, and knocked off Henderson, Texas, 3-0.
On Tuesday, Spring Hill beat Pineville, La., 4-1, setting up a Wednesday rematch with Sumter County in the final. Once again, Spring Hill won going away, 18-1.
“The pitching was just phenomenal,” Abbadessa said. “Every time people thought we were out of pitching, we had someone come out and pitch the game of their life.”
Jaden Rivera went 2-0 with a 4.16 earned run average, while Dominiq Collura, Richie Fox, Jonathan McMath and Luis Ortiz each notched a win on the mound.
Collura pitched twice and didn’t allow a run in eight innings, including a complete-game effort against Henderson. He allowed just two hits for the tournament, walking one and striking out 11.
Ortiz was spectucular in his one outing, going 6 1/3 against Pineville, permitting an unearned run on four hits and a walk while whiffing 13 batters.
Fox pitched 9 1/3 innings over three appearances, both team highs, giving up seven hits and a walk against 12 strikeouts, posting a 1.93 ERA.
At the plate, Spring Hill hit an amazing .498 collectively. Javy Bonilla hit .571 with a couple of doubles, scoring five times and driving in four runs. McMath batted .542 with six runs and a team-best 10 runs batted in.
Ortiz chipped in with a .500 average, a double, two triples, one home run, 11 runs and eight RBI. Jake Rice averaged .480 with a homer, six runs and seven RBI.
Nick Morales added a .545 average, a double, seven runs and four RBI. Collura hit .520 with one double, eight runs and three RBI. Rivera batted .429 with two doubles, a triple, three runs and five RBI.
“It was a great effort one through nine (in the lineup),” Abbadessa said.
The coach clearly saw the impact of last year’s World Series trip.
“It was our first time there last year and it really gave us an idea of what we needed to work on and got the pitchers used to dealing with more adversity,” Abbadessa said. “The other thing, from a player standpoint, I thought the maturity level really came around.
“I thought this year they played more level-headed. They didn’t get too high, didn’t get too low. They just went out and played the game.”
He noted that the dominance, particularly in pitching, with which the team won made the triumph more special, as well as the fact Spring Hill went undefeated all the way through the summer. This was also the first time a county club has earned a World Series title within this age group.
It additionally meant something personally for Abbadessa, who had one son, Gabe, coaching and another, David, on the roster.
Now 10 years removed from the league’s first state championship, Spring Hill has won three World Series the past two summers. The first came last year at the AAA Minors (age 9-10) level, and this year’s AA Rookies (age 7-8) followed the Junior Boys winning their World Series on Thursday.
It all resonates for Abbadessa, who has served as director for the entire league the past few years.
“Just to collect three World Series in two seasons, it just speaks volumes,” Abbadessa said. “We try to put together a very competitive league. The development of the kids is there. The one thing we’ve been stressing is the development from the bottom up. You’ve got to have a successful base.
“Having great volunteers and coaches who go out there and bust their tails with the kids and develop these kids, and take them out to the travel ball circuit, I think it speaks volumes.”
He also pointed to the importance of winning under the Spring Hill banner.
“It means something to come out in a Dixie tournament and represent the community,” Abbadessa said. “I think we take a lot of pride in that.”