One group of local players beat the odds when they competed in, and won, the Dizzy Dean World Series last week.
The 7-and-under Hobgood Heat team blazed through the field in Southaven, Miss., outscoring their opponents 119-13 and posting an 8-0 record to claim the title.
Five of the final eight teams in the tournament were from Cobb and Cherokee counties, including the Storm, another Hobgood Baseball team. The Heat beat the Storm 10-2 in the semifinals, then beat the Hixson (Tenn.) Havoc 13-1 for the championship.
The Hobgood Storm went on to finish third overall, beating the Kennesaw Generals in the third-place game.
The Canton Stingers were also in the tournament but lost to the Sandy Plains Cougars in the round of 16.
The Hobgood Heat ended the summer with a 45-2 record, outscoring teams by a combined margin of 635-167. They won the title in eight of the nine tournaments they entered and won their second straight district and state championships.
Nick Bessho, who has coached the same core group of players for the past two summers, says they are a special bunch. In fact, while he and his family recently moved to Milton, they return to Cherokee County for the Hobgood program.
“Last season, we were runners-up at the World Series,” Bessho said. “This summer, we were the champions. I knew this team was very special, so even though we moved out of the area, I felt that I owed it to the kids and the team and everybody to not walk away.”
The Heat competed against 24 other teams from Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Florida.
Bessho said the event is as big as it gets for a team like his. A 15-year coaching veteran, he said Dizzy Dean tournament is the biggest scale he has ever coached at, but the players made it easy.
“They have good team chemistry and will not to give up,” he said. “They jell real well together and work hard and practice. Like we always tell them, ‘You play like you practice.’”
Among the team’s top performers were tournament MVP Joe Nevel and all-tournament players Caleb Hughes, Brooks McKenna and Jake Zehner.
Other members of the team include Bryce Bessho, Zac Calabrese, Carter Gilliam, Jack Hartman, Even Holstein, Logan Stradley, Jack Strickland and Cody Cason.
Helping Nick Bessho on the coaching staff were assistants Todd Holstein, Matt McKenna, Mark Nevel and Dave Zehner.
“They were just a well-balanced team — almost like a well-oiled machine,” Bessho said. “They just fired on all cylinders all summer. We were the cream of the crop. There is no doubt about that.”
For most of the season, Hobgood played with a target on its back as the defending district champion.
“The coaches even bought them special championship jerseys that they would only wear in championship games to get them pumped up,” Bessho said. “It was all about keeping them motivated.”
Bessho expects most of his players to return as he plans to transition the team into a travel program and away from the “coach-pitch” style of play.
“We’re going to do our best to develop them for kid-pitch,” Bessho said. “It’s a whole different game. There is a kid standing on the mound throwing. That is the biggest transition, teaching them to hit off a kid. But you also have to teach the kids to pitch. It’s just a different game.”