The Little League state tournament is not just another step in the process for the Vine Ingle 10-11-year-old baseball team. A form of greater motivation looms: a chance to avenge last year’s loss.
By winning the District 5 tournament played last month in Warner Robins, Vine Ingle earned a bid to play in the state tournament Saturday-Friday in Toccoa.
But rather than just attend the tournament, head coach Daryl Cohen and the Vine Ingle players seek to avenge last year’s loss in the semifinals, a game in which Cohen said his team was “one inning away from playing in the state championship.”
One year later and one year older with more experience, Cohen knows where his team’s focus is.
“That’s definitely our goal,” Cohen said. “The kids are excited to get another shot at it. We’ve got eight kids returning from last year’s 10-year-old team and four new kids on the team this year.”
Vine Ingle breezed through the district level, defeating Warner Robins East 14-3 in the championship after beating Dudley 14-2 in the first round and Warner Robins West 10-6 in round two.
It was just the first step in a process to return to competing for the state title.
“I thought we had an excellent chance of winning district,” Cohen said. “This team won the district last year as 10-year-olds. So, I felt good about our chances going into this year.”
Cohen has coached at Vine Ingle for 10 years; his experience, coupled with the players’ knowledge from last year, bodes well for the team’s chance to improve upon its performance this year.
“I think it will help them,” Cohen said. “Won’t have as many nerves, hopefully, going into some of the big games because they’ve been there before.”
Cohen speaks highly of the team, both from an on-field and off-field perspective. On the diamond, he recognizes no weaknesses: pitching, fielding and hitting are all strong components on the team. And the scores have backed that up.
“This group of boys plays the game the right way,” Cohen said. “They’re a high-character team. They don’t taunt other teams; they play the game the right way, because of the way they’ve been taught. They don’t ever give up.”
As a special treat, Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert visited the team at practice Thursday to speak to the boys before their journey to the state tournament.
Cohen believes this year’s team is the best he has ever coached, and it is still improving. The team’s roster includes Dylan Butler, Coleman Cauley, Blake Cohen, Thomas Johnson, Zane Johnson, Cook Kemper, Luke McCart, Jackson Moore, Charlie Morris, Walker Perkins, Clay Rowland and John Wade.
Although the 10-11 division does not have a Little League World Series, Cohen and his boys strive to play at regionals this year and work toward the 11-12 World Series for next year.
“We’re continuing to build with goals obviously as 12-year-olds hopefully competing and going to Williamsport,” he said.