Coaches told the South Park All-Stars to take chances, have fun, and “go for it.”
That philosophy paid off in a Dixie Youth World Series championship last week for the Charlotte team.
South Park celebrated its 50th year as a baseball organization by winning its first-ever title in Dixie Youth’s featured Majors division (12-under). No other Charlotte-area team has won a Majors title in Dixie Youth’s 64 years.
“Most of these kids have been playing ball together since they were 7,” head coach Steve Gardner said. “It was a special group — a close-knit group with some real talent and a willingness to work.”
South Park has come close before, finishing second in 2012 to a team from Florida and third in 2017. This year’s group of 12-year-olds closed the deal, shutting out three of five opponents in the World Series at Ruston, La.
The Charlotte team wrapped up the title last Thursday, downing Florida 5-0 behind a two-hit, 13-strikeout performance by 6-foot-2 lefthander John Lash. He was among four South Park pitchers who compiled a 0.69 earned run average in 15 postseason games.
The group included two southpaws — Lash, whose father Pete was a two-time Olympian in handball; and Ben Wilcox, whose father Greg earned hall-of-fame honors as a pitcher at Davidson College — and right-handers Grant Gardner, Steve’s son, and Davis Johnson.
Steve Gardner said he and fellow coaches, Wilcox and Drew Nicholson, tried to use pitchers for only two innings in each game. That way, opponents were seeing a new pitcher every time they came to bat. And South Park’s pitchers remained rested and healthy.
“We saw other teams with kids who got arm injuries,” Gardner said. “So we kept the pitch count down.”
“Greg (Wilcox) did a great job with our pitchers,” he said.
The offensive leader was Tyler Shortridge, who went 8-for-13 and hit three home runs in Louisiana. Lash slammed three home runs earlier in the state tournament.
South Park’s toughest test might have come in the state tournament, against a Stanley team that had beaten the Charlotte squad two years ago for the 10-under North Carolina title. This time, South Park lost earlier in the tournament to Stanley but recovered to win the title as Lash fired a no-hitter in a 1-0 victory over the Gaston County nemesis.
“That Stanley team is really good,” Gardner said. “Getting past them was a big hurdle.”
Throughout the postseason, Gardner said, the South Park players were told to enjoy themselves and not be afraid to take chances — to stretch a single to a double, or to make a tough play in the field.
“When it was all over, we told the kids, ‘Don’t go through life scared. When in doubt, go for it,’ ” Gardner said.
South Park All-Stars
Players for the team were selected from the six South Park regular-season squads. They are: Marshall Blakeney, Anderson Coppage, Grant Gardner, Garrett Haston, Miles Humphrey, Davis Johnson, John Lash, Blake Nicholson, Nolan Rutherford, Tyler Shortridge, Austin Ward and Ben Wilcox.
Coaches were Steve Gardner, Drew Nicholson and Greg Wilcox.
In the World Series, South Park opened by beating Arkansas 11-2; then beat Tennessee 1-0 on a Gardner RBI hit. They next downed Georgia 6-4 and topped South Carolina 3-0 in the semifinals on a Shortridge home run before blanking Florida 5-0 in the finals.
Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle