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National champions are relaxed

By BRANT JAMES

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 13, 2001


BROOKSVILLE -- Tim Sims doesn't know if his Hernando Youth League Dixie Majors team will be able to replicate the magical summer of 2000, when it won state and national titles.

Even with many of the same 17-and-18-year-olds on his roster, it's a tall task.

But as Sims' squad prepares for the Dixie League State Tournament, Saturday-Thursday in Sebring, and as he coaches many of the players for the last time, he is sure of one thing: This tourney will be enjoyable no matter the outcome.

"There's been a lot of good memories," Sims said. "These guys have gone from little pups to young men and that's been great to be able to watch. We told them, we're going to have fun."

Sims' roster is built for managerial fun. All-Suncoast first-team center fielder Dee Brown, pitchers Patrick Ryan and Jason Dunn and Drew Innes provide a solid core that's surrounded by mostly Hernando High School players and mixed with a few from Central.

The HYL team earned a bye into the state event as the defending national champion and opens with Milton on Saturday. Experience would seem squarely on his side, but Sims has learned to be wary of that variable.

"Going 13-15 shows how much experience you have during the high school season," Sims said of his veteran, lackluster Hernando Leopards club.

"Any one of seven teams that have a hot week similar to what we had last year has a chance," he said. "The plus is, if we get down, we won't be pressing where maybe some younger teams are."

Jeff Laing will have some experience returning for his Pre-Majors (15-16) squad when it begins state play Saturday in Bonifay against Tom Brown (Tallahassee).

Among his more seasoned players are second-year Pre-Majors and two-year prep varsity performer Brad Wyatt, who will pitch and play center field.

The Pre-Majors team has a certain reputation to maintain. The squad went to the 1998 state semifinals, won it in '99 and was the runner-up in 2000.

"With Brad and Willie (Fifer) on the mound, I have a pretty good feeling from the pitching aspect," Laing said.

DIXIE LEAGUE BASEBALL

HERNANDO MAJORS (17-18)

MANAGER: Tim Sims.

ASSISTANT COACH: Donnie Whitehead.

ROSTER: Jeremy Balogh, Stephen Blanton, Jerad Brotherwood, Dee Brown, Ben Bunn, Trevor Coleman, Jason Dunn, Tommy Hessler, Drew Innes, Jamie McElfresh, David Moen, Wes Radacky, Andrew Runge, Patrick Ryan, Greg Shaw, Nick Westbrook.

IMPORTANT DATES: Saturday-Thursday -- State tournament, Sebring. July 28-Aug. 3 -- World Series, North Charleston, S.C.

HERNANDO PRE-MAJ. (15-16)

MANAGER: Jeff Laing.

ASSISTANT COACH: Mike Brace.

ROSTER: Chase Blacklidge, Mathew Blanton, Thomas Bunn, Ryan Cook, Brian Dunn, Freddie Farmer, Willie Fifer, Alex Hensley, Heath Hensley, Seth Noe, Jake Oleson, Ben Robinson, Ryan Rusk, John Watson, Brae White, Brad Wyatt.

IMPORTANT DATES: Saturday-Thursday -- State tournament, Bonifay. July 28-Aug. 3 -- World Series, Florence, S.C.

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