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Still looking out for No. 1

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

SYLVESTER -- Shh. Don't mention this to anyone, but the kids at Worth County can hit.

They just don't know what they're hitting -- honest.

Coach Will Smith may have come up with one of the best coaching tactics in the history of baseball this year: He doesn't let his players know what their batting averages are.

It was after the seventh game of the season, and Worth had lost five in a row. So after the game, Smith told his kids not to worry about what they were hitting. In fact, they wouldn't know, because he wasn't going to tell them.

It wasn't a punishment, just a great idea.

"I told them that there would be no more individual statistics,'' Smith said. "I told them we have a new goal, and that's to get 10 hits a game. It's not about the individual. It's about the team.''

The Stat-less Wonders haven't slowed down since and storm into the GHSA Class AAA state playoffs against Rutland on Friday night as a team that couldn't care less about batting averages -- and couldn't care more about each other.

"We don't have a bunch of egos,'' said Allen Fender, who will pitch the first game of Friday's doubleheader. "We're unselfish. No one on this team gets on anybody's back. We're all in this together.''

That's the idea. Maybe that's why this team has had so much fun this season. Maybe that's why they had miracle last-inning comebacks against Crisp and Cairo -- in back-to-back games, no less.

Maybe that's why, despite being considered too young and being counted out of the Region 1-AAA race from before the first pitch was thrown this season, they won the region title. Maybe that's why they played their best when they needed it the most, torching their way to a nine-game winning streak in the stretch run when every game meant something to clinch the title early.

Oh, and by the way? They averaged 10 hits a game during that nine-game winning streak.

Or maybe it was just the 100-year celebration.

The Worth Fun Bunch couldn't have picked a better time to win a title. This is the 100 year anniversary of Pope Park, a grand old friend to baseball and Sylvester, and the home to Worth County baseball.

"We're the 100-year team,'' catcher Brandon Weaver said. "That's a lot of history.''

That history, however, hasn't been kind to Worth high school baseball. Between old Sylvester High and Worth County High, the baseball program had won only five region titles before this season, back in 1951, '52, '53, '59 and again in 2006. This region title this season marked only the second one in more than 50 years -- and the program still has yet to win a state championship.

"Us winning the region title this year was like Pope Park raising its head and saying, 'I'm still here.' " Smith said. "It's ironic and it's really neat we won the region in the 100th year. We had won it once (2006) in the last 50 years.''

It tastes even sweeter because no one gave Worth County a chance. Smith lost six everyday starters from a team that went just 11-15 last season, and his lineup is loaded with sophomores.

"No one thought we would finish fourth in the region,'' said Corey Odom, a sophomore who pitches and plays first base.

Weaver loves the underdog role.

"Nobody gave us a shot,'' he said.

Smith just shook his head when he remembered the start of the season.

"I really didn't know what kind of team we would have,'' he said. "We knew we would be young. I knew we would struggle early. If you would have asked me if we were going to win the region, the answer would have simply been no.''

But Smith knows better than anyone that baseball is the only sport that keeps a stat on sacrifices, and that's what he preached to his kids. The simple idea of getting it done as a team. His slogan is simple and effective.

"Get 'em on, get 'em over and get 'em in,'' said Smith, who is thinking about getting T-shirts with those words.

They outscored opponents, 111-47, in the region, and if you throw out two unexplainable, fluke loses to Perry, which didn't make the playoffs, Worth hammered opponents, 107-23. Worth also knows how to hit in the clutch and had 32 two-out RBI hits this season.

And Worth has pitching with Fender, a lefty who threw a no-hitter and a one-hitter this season and has a 2.30 ERA with 79 strikeouts in 53 innings. He went 5-1 in the region. Odom went 4-1 and Will Peacock, the team's only junior, went 2-1.

"We've had great pitching and our defense has been outstanding,'' Smith said.

And one more thing: They have been about as close as a team can get.

After they lost their fifth game in a row early in the season, Smith told his kids he was disappointed in the results but that he hadn't had this much fun coaching in years.

"He told us that and it meant a lot to us,'' said Fender, who is one of six seniors and has already signed with Darton -- but he would like to play a few more games before leaving Worth. "We want to get it done.''

Smith believes in his kids, and they believe in each other.

"This team has great chemistry,'' Smith said. "That comes from the senior leadership, on and off the field. I knew this group of seniors would lead by example. I am having more fun than I have had in years, and they're having fun.''

Jared Edwards (CF), Bryant Reddell (1B/DH), Tyler Hembree (2B), Mario Williams (LF) and Tevin Smith (3B) make up that senior pack along with Fender. No one knows what they're hitting, but no one cares.

Worth (14-12 and 11-3 in the region race) meets Rutland at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Friday at old Pope Park, where 100 years of memories will hover over one of the best teams --- and maybe the most fun teams -- in Worth high school history.

The Stat-less Wonders will be ready.

"We're going in full speed ready to get this thing done,'' Weaver said.

There is no statistic for that.