Originally created 08/21/05

Hero of Dixie World Series is a confident hitter

Ben Clark had been dreaming of this moment.

At the Dixie Pre-Major World Series in Ponchatoula, La., on Aug. 5, Clark stepped to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning of a tie game. A hit would give North Augusta the title.

"We work on it in batting practice all the time," Clark said. "The last ball is always, 'Can you get a hit or will you pop out?' "

With an 0-1 count, Clark slapped a single up the middle, scoring teammate Will Fulmer.

After the game-winning hit, Clark's 12 teammates joined him in the middle of the diamond to celebrate North Augusta's first Dixie World Series championship since 1966.

"There were a lot of heroes, but he was the one who got the game-winning hit," said Bobby Gantt, coach of the team of 15- to 16-year-old all-stars.

Mr. Gantt, an assistant baseball coach at North Augusta High School, said most of the all-stars have been playing together for years. The team went 4-0 in the Dixie Pre-Majors District Tournament in North Augusta and then was 5-0 at the state tournament in Lancaster, S.C., to reach the World Series.

Twelve teams from the Southeast play in the Dixie World Series. North Augusta defeated Monroe, La., 6-5 in the 10-inning championship game that thrust Clark into the spotlight.

Getting to the championship game was anything but easy for Clark, a pitcher and one of the team's top hitters.

"I pulled my hamstring in the district tournament," he said. "I didn't pitch at all at state."

The injury limited Clark to only a few pinch-hit appearances through the rest of the district tournament and the state tournament.

Pitching for the first time in 14 playoff games, Clark earned a complete-game win over North Carolina in the Dixie World Series semifinals to send North Augusta to the title game.

Pinch hitting in the 10th inning the next night, Clark faced the pressure-packed moment with confidence.

"I knew I would come through. I wasn't nervous at all."

Now back at North Augusta High, Clark has hung up his baseball glove for the rest of the year to play football for the Yellow Jackets.

Clark's transition will have to be quick. North Augusta's football season begins Friday at home.

His baseball coach knows he'll be fine. "Ben's always been a tough, hard-nosed kid," Gantt said.

Reach Billy Byler at (803) 648-1395, ext. 106, or billy.byler@augustachronicle.com.


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