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Auburn team earns World Series chance

POSTED: July 16, 2014 12:00 p.m.
Photo Courtesy Joshua Willard/

Auburn’s pre-major All-Star team poses after winning the state title in their division. They will play in next weekend’s World Series.

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One impressive group of young men have done what no other team from this area has done before, as the Auburn Dixie Youth pre-majors baseball team has advanced to the World Series in Chipley, Fl.

“I just can’t say enough about what my boys have done to put themselves in this position,” Coach Joshua Willard said of the team.

Auburn has never taken a team to the World Series before, and Willard made it his priority this season to make sure that his team at least had the opportunity to do just that.

“I said coming into this season that I wanted to take a team to the state tournament, and now that they’ve had some success and put it all together to go to the World Series, I can’t really put it in words,” Willard said. “

The 14 ball players who make up Auburn’s team were taken from the two area Dixie Youth Baseball teams at their level to form an Auburn All-Stars team to compete in the state tournament. 

According to Willard, the two Auburn teams combined for a 22-10 record and scored more than 150 runs in their regular season in the district. One of the Auburn teams went on to win the league, putting up more than 30 runs in three games. They defeated the highest seed in the tournament, a previously one-loss team, 6-1 in order to capture that title.

“The boys worked their tails off,” Willard noted. “They worked hard. They played 30 games in a month and a week. That many games in five weeks is a lot for anybody.”

As solid as the offense was, the strength of Auburn’s teams had to be pitching. 

“We had three pitchers whose ERAs floated around the 1s,” Willard explained.

Nate Savage compiled a 1.16 ERA, the best in the league, through seven games. Jonah Willard pitched 36 strikeouts and earned a 4-1 record in five games, as well. Rounding out the rotation, Aaron Millican turned in two complete games, including one two-hit shutout. 

Millican will also be representing Georgia in the pre-major home run derby at the World Series.

Jonah and Millican went head-to-head in the league final with Millican recording eight innings and Jonah putting in seven innings of hard work. Jonah’s team would eventually win 3-1 in extra innings, but neither team could make much happen with the touted starting pitchers on the mound. 

The two aces can rest easy, though, knowing they now get to play for the same team.

The only other pre-majors team in the state of Georgia that qualified for the tournament opted out of playing the Auburn team for various reasons, including realizing that they would have to play an Auburn team they had already lost to twice.

As a result, Auburn’s pre-majors team won the state of Georgia. Even though they were state champions, they still had to play in a tournament to earn a spot in the World Series.

As there were no pre-majors teams to play, the Auburn All-Stars opted to move up and play in the state majors tournament. 

“We were franchised as a Dixie majors team, but because of the league age of our players, we were able to designate ourselves as a pre-major all-star team,” Willard explained. 

“I had a conversation with the state commissioner and he told us, ‘Well, you’re the state champions for Georgia, but if you want to play in the World Series, you still have to play in a tournament,’” Willard recalled.

All that Auburn had to do was participate in the major league tournament and they would get a spot in the World Series down in Florida, but the talented Auburn team had aspirations of doing more than just participating and competing against teams older than them. They were going to play to win.

“We drew Columbia County…which is filled with junior college and two Division I signees,” Willard mentioned. “They came out and expected to blast us, and we shut them out for the first three innings.”

Columbia would eventually take the victory, but not until after Auburn put up a few runs of their own to make the game interesting. 

“We held our own against a bunch of 20-year olds,” Willard noted. 

Auburn went on to play an 8 a.m. game against Mountain Park the next morning. The older team would get their win against Auburn once more, but not until Auburn had made their talent known. 

“Their work with the other Dixie leagues that we played in is what earned them their state championship more than any tournament. The team we were supposed to play we had already beaten twice,” Willard reiterated. “Our state championship was more based on our record in the season than any tournament because the one team we were supposed to play backed out.

“It says something when the team backs out because they’re scared to play you,” Willard added.

Although the Auburn Wildcats lost their first game 15-4 and their second 12-3, Willard was proud of what his team did against a much older, extremely challenging opponent.

“To say those scores it sounds like we went down there and got our rear ends handed to us, but in discussions I had with the commissioners of the league, they were more impressed with the way our team played than the way the other teams played,” Willard said. “We really controlled the pace of the game.”

Tyler Hall was 4-for-5 in the tournament with two RBIs, joined by Brian Dotson who pitched four strikeouts in three shutout innings against a group of 19 and 20 year olds.

As difficult as the games were, Willard knows that his team’s play against the older opponents will only help them in the long run.

“We feel that the way our pitching showed us this weekend, we’re going to be pretty stout when we go into the World Series next Friday,” Willard said. “Going out and competing with these boys…when we walked off the field Saturday, when I looked at the faces of those boys Saturday, they were faces that said, ‘We know what we just did.’

“When they go down and play boys at their level, I don’t know that anybody could stop this team at the moment,” Willard emphasized.

Auburn will represent Georgia in the 2014 pre-majors World Series in Chipley, FL starting July 26 against the Mississippi representative at noon. After a five day tournament, the winner will be crowned on July 30.

“Auburn has always been blessed with baseball and softball talent, especially at the older ages,” Willard said. “We’ve seen a lot of our kids go on to varsity play at both high schools. We’ve seen them play at Dacula. We’ve had a lot of players in our organization who have gone on to have good baseball careers.”

Despite their success, Willard says he has one more dream for Auburn baseball that is yet to come true that he is holding out hope will come one day sooner or later.

“We haven’t had one go pro yet, but I still have dreams.”

 

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