DUBLIN — On the heels of an injury-riddled season that saw the Knights finish the spring baseball season 8-14 overall and 7-7 in the Four County Conference, West Bladen will keep the bats, balls and bases out of storage and get ready for the summer Dixie Youth Pre-Majors season.
But it will be a vastly different roster than the Knights had during the school season.
“We had seven seniors on the school team that won’t be playing for us this summer,” said West Bladen coach Kim Cain, who won’t take over the dugout until school concludes for the summer. “We’re going to be a young team.”
Lost from the school team for the Knights was Jeremy Hunt, Ray Jones, Chandler Lennon, Seth Britt, Troy Edge, Donald McCullum and Brandon Carson.
But Cain and the Knights will have a small core of experienced leaders on the field — including pitcher/DH Trent West, who hit over .400 in the spring; first-baseman/pitcher Jarrett Williams, who hit over .300 in the spring; shortstop mainstay West Pidgeon; and Seth Britt, who may see action at catcher.
“We’ll also have quite a few players up from the jayvee and even a couple of rising freshmen,” Cain said.
Though the summer league has been pieced together among a handful of teams over the past few seasons, this summer will see a huge change. The league has shaped up into three divisions with a total of 16 teams. One division has teams from Bladen, Columbus and Robeson counties (East Bladen, West Bladen, Lumberton, St. Pauls, Whiteville, South Columbus, West Columbus and East Columbus); one division has teams from North Myrtle Beach, S.C., Loris, S.C., North Brunswick and South Brunswick; and the third division will have teams from Wilmington (Ashley, New Hanover, Hoggard and Laney).
“It’s going to be a very competitive league,” Cain said. “But that’s going to be good for us. We’re rebuilding, maybe for the next few years, so seeing good competition will help.”
He added that the schedule will show 10 games dates, each with double-headers scheduled for a 20-game season. Cain also said will be a season-ending tournament June 28-30.
For the past three summer seasons, West Bladen has managed to put together a run at the North Carolina state championship and earn a berth in the Dixie Youth Pre-Majors World Series. Over those three summers, the Knights are 3-6 in the World Series, but have shown a one-game improvement each trip — including last year when they opened the tournament 2-0.
Cain, however, isn’t thinking about the state tournament or the World Series.
“I just want these kids to be able to play, get better and hopefully see it carry over to next spring,” he said. “The state championships have been nice and the trips to the World Series have been a good experience, and if it happens that’s great. But right now, it’s the furthest thing from my mind.”
The Knights’ season-opening double-header will be Monday, when they travel to face Lumberton starting at 6 p.m.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.