Owensboro Southern's 11-year-old Little League Baseball All-Stars are eager to conquer a new challenge.
Southern, which captured the District 1 championship in riveting fashion last week at Country Heights Elementary School, begins pool play today in the Kentucky Little League State Tournament in Prestonsburg.
Southern takes on North Oldham at 4 p.m. (CT) today, and will follow with pool play games against Paintsville (5 p.m., Sunday), Ashland (6 p.m., Monday) and host Prestonsburg (4:15 p.m., Tuesday).
The tournament semifinals are set for Wednesday and the championship game is scheduled for Wednesday.
"I feel really good about where we're at," Southern manager Todd Lillpop said. "At the same time, we're taking this team into a different area of the state (far eastern Kentucky) and they'll be playing on a different stage -- there are certainly some unknowns in that regard.
"But I love the way this team has come together so well at the right time. We competed at a high level in district play and I expect us to compete at a high level in the state tournament."
In the middle of Monday's practice, Lillpop made a point to show his team the wall of honor at Southern, which honors past champions.
"We talked a little about the history of Southern, the tradition that's been established over a lot of years," Lillpop said. "We talked about how it took great attention to detail, great focus and great determination for those teams to get on that well -- we want to possess all those qualities, as well."
Southern certainly stepped up in the district finals, holding off another tradition-rich power, Bowling Green East, to win 5-3 in the championship game -- stranding the bases loaded at the conclusion.
"I'll tell you what really impressed me about our bunch -- it was their composure," Lillpop said. "To me, it was remarkable how composed a group of 10- and 11-year-old kids stayed in the heat of the moment during a pressure-packed game. That quality should serve us well moving forward."
Southern's typical starting lineup features Ty Ashley (CF), Jayden James (SS-P), Ty Lillpop (1B-P), Ryleigh Logan (P-1B-C), Brayden Burger (3B-2B), Daveon Hinton (2B), Geordyn Stevens (LF-SS), Lane Hundley (C-LF-P), and either Jack Krampe (OF) or Nolan Johnson (OF).
Substitutes are Alex Hood (C), Nicholas Sims (OF-P) and Brody White (INF).
"I like the way we have a bunch of different guys who make the lineup whole," Lillpop said. "We have a pretty good mix of everything you're looking for in a solid top-to-bottom lineup.
"The bottom of the order has been huge for us, as have our substitutes. We feel like we have a pretty solid all-around team."
Lillpop also has rave reviews for assistants Bryce Burger and Buster Ashley.
"Bryce has been a great friend for a long time and we were baseball teammates (at Kentucky Wesleyan College), and he has a lot of Little League experience," Lillpop said. "He calls every pitch and does a great job at it.
"Buster works with our outfielders, handles our substitutions, and does a great job keeping our kids focused during the course of the game. He's been outstanding to work with.
"There's no way we could do all this without the entire staff."
Lillpop believes Southern will have success in Prestonsburg if it executes the fundamentals.
"I believe we're going to hit the baseball with the players we have on this team," he said, "so it's going to come down to throwing strikes and playing solid defense. We'll be fine if we do that."
And make the most of the opportunity.
"I try to emphasize to our players that this is a very special time in their lives, and that some of them may never have another opportunity like this in their athletic careers," Lillpop said. "I want them to be able to take advantage of this and see it as the special moment that it is."