The Portland Spikes 17-and-under baseball squad was in Guntersville, Alabama, last weekend competing in the Dixie Pre-Majors World Series.
“I’m real excited,” John Thayer — the team’s co-head coach along with Aaron Whitten — said prior to the tournament. “You never know if you’ll go again. Saying you’ve been to the World Series one time is fun.
“The last time we’ve been to the World Series was when Aaron was 18. It was 10 years ago. Going to a World Series, not a lot of people can do that. Qualifying for a World Series is everything.”
The Spikes captured a 6-5 victory over Texas in its opener on Saturday afternoon, followed by a 10-5 win over North Carolina on Saturday evening. However, the Portland squad suffered a 13-1 loss to Florida on Sunday evening and was slated to play a team from Enterprise, Alabama, in an elimination game on Monday afternoon.
The team had an abbreviated season due to COVID-19 limitations, but the Spikes managed to win nine of their 13 games entering the 10-team World Series. The team played its first game of the summer on June 6.
“It’s been tough to get games,” Thayer said. “We can’t play at the high school. The high school was locked down.”
Instead, the team — which consists of all Portland High players (three seniors, five juniors, four sophomores and four freshmen) — has played its home games at Richland Park.
“Our only goal is to make the high-school team better,” Thayer said. “It’s tons of improvement. The most improvement is the mental improvement. The key is the mental improvement.
“You hear that here’s no I in team. I want a bunch of Is. I will make them a team. Concentrate on that. Just worry about the I. Then, we’ll put it together. They’ve all worked on their Is. Then, they’ve learned how to care about their teammates.”
The season has lasted for seven weeks, but the Spikes were inactive for two weeks due to the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association (TSSAA) dead period.
The Spikes qualified for the World Series by winning a best-of-three series against the Mt. Juliet Patriots — which consisted of players from Mt. Juliet, Gallatin and Hendersonville — from July 14-15 at Gallatin’s Municipal Park.
In a doubleheader played on July 14, the Spikes captured a 7-4 victory before suffering an 11-1 loss in game two.
However, senior Tyler Dillard tossed a complete-game one-hitter in the clinching game one day later, a 5-0 victory, to punch the team’s ticket to the World Series. Dillard issued one base on balls and struck out five batters.
“Baseball is a game to where you learn by failing,” Thayer said. “It’s about picking them up. That’s what we’ve pushed hard. They only people who can criticize anybody is the coaches. The rest of the guys are there to pick each other up.
“They’ve all improved mentally and physically.”