Babe Ruth Softball World Series gets set to begin in Alachua
Published: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 10:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 10:06 p.m.
After coaching youth sports in Gilchrist County for the last 15 years, Scott Guthrie witnessed firsthand this spring how recreation-league victories can one day lead to high school state championships.
The young T-ball players Guthrie once helped coach in Trenton's tight-knit community capped more than a decade-long journey in their sport this May by winning a FHSAA Class 1A baseball title.
Now in his second year teaming with THS baseball coach Todd Bryant to guide their daughters' Gilchrist County Lightning 12-and-under softball team, Guthrie is hoping to see similar future results when opening ceremonies begin today at the Babe Ruth World Series at the Hal Brady Recreation Complex in Alachua.
“It was just beyond words watching what (Trenton) accomplished this year and all that work that they put into it,” said Guthrie, who is also the varsity softball coach at THS. “There was a focus when those kids were 7- or- 8-year-olds that that's what they wanted to do ultimately in their high school careers. Hopefully, we can do the same thing with softball.”
Gilchrist County enters the World Series, which runs until Aug. 7, as a first-time competitor in a field featuring 22 teams from 11 states. The Lightning earned a World Series berth by winning the state championship July 7.
During the five-day tournament in Ocala, Gilchrist County outscored opponents 57-3 to remain undefeated this season.
“Most of these kids, whether they are Trenton or Bell, have been playing together since they were literally playing T-ball,” Guthrie said. “That really helps. There's a big rivalry between the two towns, but when it comes to representing the county, you get a lot of pride out of that.”
Joining the state champions in pool play Friday and Saturday are squads from Gainesville and Santa Fe, which is serving as the host team under coach Jason Mallard.
The top-three teams from each of the four divisions in pool play will advance to a double-elimination bracket. The remaining teams, meanwhile, will advance to the Commissioner's Cup single-elimination bracket.
The city of Alachua has hosted the World Series in three of the last four years, beginning in 2010 when Santa Fe went 7-0 to win the tournament.
“It's never happened before that three teams being so close mileage-wise and geographically have participated in a World Series,” said Mallard, who is in his second year coaching Santa Fe. “It's phenomenal from every standpoint.”
While Mallard has received support from local volunteers and businesses to set up the tournament, he believes the real impact of having three area teams in the tournament will be seen once games start Friday.
Along with Santa Fe, both Gainesville and Gilchrist County regularly play tournaments at Hal Brady Recreation Complex.
“It's a huge advantage,” Mallard said. “Not only being familiar with the park and obviously the comfort level they have playing on their home turf, but the biggest advantage I think is the crowd behind us. We went all around the Southeast playing and when you go to that home turf, with the crowd yelling and screaming, it's just a momentum swing.”
Though Gainesville finished fourth at the state tournament, coach Jacques Harris also felt confident heading into his second straight trip to the national event. Among this year's repeat competitors at the World Series are also 2012 runner-up Lodi, Calif., and defending champion Pitt County, N.C.
“We didn't really know we were going to actually be selected until after the qualifying,” Harris said. “The girls were down, but when we went to state and won four games back-to-back after losing the opening game … it really set the tone for the whole state tournament and brought more morale back to the team.”