After coming up a game shy of a state baseball championship two years in a row, just making it to Citizens Park this summer was sweet enough for Sumter's 13U All-Stars.
So imagine how sweet it was when they secured the final out Wednesday to hoist the Junior Dixie Boys World Series championship trophy.
Sumter, carrying the flag for South Carolina as state champions, scored seven unanswered runs to defeat Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, clinching their third Junior Dixie Boys World Series title since 2007.
"I knew we had a good offensive team. Where we struggle sometimes is pitching depth – guys that can throw strikes past our top two guys, and they came through with shining colors," said Sumter head coach Byron Kinney. "Jes Schwedler gave us a complete game, Chase Denton gave us a complete game, and Bryson Hodge came in today and was lights-out in relief."
Sumter took the lead for good in the bottom of the third inning with two runs to go ahead 3-2, then kept stretching that lead until it was far too much for Louisiana to overcome. Sumter's 13Us wrapped up a 6-0 week at Citizens Park in which they outscored their opponents 65-16.
The offense lived up to Kinney's expectations, scoring 11 or more runs in four of six games. Clark Kinney tied a Dixie Junior World Series record by hitting two grand slams during the week.
The pitching depth showed in a surprise relief appearance for Hodge, who was summoned to the mound after Clark Kinney reached his pitch limit. Hodge didn't allow a run and was never really threatened against a Louisiana team Sumter beat 14-2 Tuesday to put themselves in position for a championship.
Sumter became the default home team at Citizens Park as the last standing of three in-state teams, and they put on a show for their large fan base.
"A lot of our families were here all week, and that was very meaningful for them," Byron Kinney said. "Our kids, of course, wanted to travel to Texas or Louisiana, but we as parents and coaches were very excited about the fact that we were gonna be in Aiken. Aiken's been a wonderful host. The staff here, the group at USC Aiken, everything's been top notch, and we really appreciate that. Hats off to the whole group here in Aiken, South Carolina that put on this tournament."
Sumter's win prevented a clean sweep at Citizens Park by Louisiana – the Jefferson Parish 14Us just minutes before had halted a frantic comeback bid by Fairhope, Alabama, to win the Dixie Boys World Series.
Louisiana, which scored 69 runs while going 6-0 this week, stormed out to a 9-0 lead after four innings. The lead felt so safe that a fan near the dugout urged the players when it was 7-0 to go ahead and score three more runs and end it by the run rule.
They nearly lost it all.
Alabama, winners of three straight after losing Monday morning to Hope Mills, North Carolina, scored a run in the fifth and then three more to make it 9-4 before loading the bases with one out in the seventh.
Two more runs came home on a single, then another run scored to bring Alabama within two.
But Louisiana, which has buried opponent after opponent with its offensive onslaught, had built too much of a lead to let it slip away.
A final ground out ended the game, giving the Jefferson Parish Parks and Recreation Department a Dixie Boys World Series title to go with the World Series championship won by their 15Us last month.