By Kevin PosivalKilleen Daily Herald
It was the third or fourth game of the season, Shannon Dean, Killeen Nationals baseball coach remembered, when his competitive senior midget league baseball team lost to the Killeen Giants and everything changed."I told my three or four team leaders not to try and carry this team on their shoulders," Dean said. "I told them to trust their teammates."It takes teamwork, not individual work to get to district," Dean added.The Nationals then went on to an undefeated roll to finish the regular season at 12-1, a district championship and will play in the state tournament in Ennis on Monday night."It feels awesome," Devlin Smith, 10, said."I can't believe we're in it."The Nationals missed out on all this last year with a third-place finish in Dean's first year as head coach of the club.Only the top two finishers in each area advance to the district tournament. This year, the Nationals went as the first-place prospect with the Killeen Giants finishing second."This club is the best group of nine and 10 year-olds I've ever coached," Dean said.At the district tournament, the Nationals rolled to a 14-2 first-round win. Then, they sent the Killeen Giants into the loser's bracket with a 13-2 second-round win.The Nationals only managed an 11-5 semi-final win over the Troy Astros. But, being the only Astros loss, the Nationals had to face them again in the finals.In that game, the Nationals posted a 12-2, four-inning, run-rule decision to capture the district trophy.Smith was on last year's third-place team. They were the Cubs instead of the Nationals, he remembered."The team is more experienced [this year]; they got stronger and everyone on the team has a very good attitude," Smith said.Dean said the rest of the team was just as excited after the game."They knew their hard work had paid off," he said.This year team returned six of last season's players. Then, just before the district tournament, coach Dean was allowed to draft three players from area teams that had not made the district cut.He selected three, what he called, "all-stars" and had his state-qualifying team.Andrew Beck, 10, joined the team from the Killeen Devilrays. A transfer from Fort Leavenworth, Kan. in 2005, this is Beck's first year to play in the summer league.In Kansas, Beck played football, basketball and baseball. He said he loved baseball because it's a game that his entire family really gets into."Most of the teams I've played on have all had pretty good kids," Beck said."[The Nationals] are way better, way more experienced and have clearly played longer."Beck said making the transition from the Devilrays to the Nationals was not hard at all. He said he knew many of the National players from school."At first, the kids were a little apprehensive," Dean said of his Nationals team regarding the three-player pick-up."Now that they have seen how good this team has become with them, it's like they've been on the team all season long."They've actually completed this team. Without them we probably wouldn't have won district."Fifteen championship-caliber teams will meet in Ennis starting on Monday for the state tournament. Each represents a district title because only district champions are invited to the state tournamentThe Nationals will either play at 6 p.m. or 8 p.m. Monday night.Contact Kevin Posival at firstname.lastname@example.org
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