DOVER — Most of these guys have been close to winning titles before.
A lot of them were members of the Dover High baseball team that reached the state semifinals three seasons in a row.
Many of them were also on the District I all-star squad that reached the Eastern Regional finals last July.
So, ending their Little League careers with a Big League Eastern championship banner would be a satisfying accomplishment for this year’s District I all-stars.
Dover has 10 players on the 17-man District I roster that plays in the Eastern Regional at Dover Little League this weekend.
The nine-team tournament in Little League’s 16-18-year-old division gets started on Saturday with the bracket for the double-elimination event being drawn tonight. Unless it draws a first-round bye, District I will open with a 7:30 p.m. game on Saturday.
“We get to play together one more time,” said first baseman Kendall Small, a Dover grad. “It would be nothing like the (high school) state championship but this would be a nice little consolation.”
“Going to the World Series would be a good topping of our high school careers,” said outfielder Dakota Graham, another former Senator. “We’ve all got that chemistry. It’s like a brotherhood between all of us.”
Until they start playing, how each squad stacks up is something of a mystery in a regional like this. District I hasn’t won the East banner since 2006.
Dover’s Kevin Turner, who also managed last year’s District I squad, said he knows better than to assume too much going into the regional.
“I thought last year was the most competitive,” said Turner, the former Dover High player and coach. “There were probably five teams that could have walked away from here (with the title). Based on what we know, some of the same teams are coming back. It’s going to be competitive again this year.
“I really thought the Maryland team was one of the better teams (last year),” he added. “We caught a break late in the game (in a 5-3 victory), made a couple plays, and the next you know, one of arguably the best teams was in the losers’ bracket. If you don’t recover well. ... one of the best teams went home early. That could be us. It could certainly happen to any team in this tournament.”
A year ago, District I fell to Pennsylvania, 5-0, in the East finals. While the Kent County squad posted shutouts in two of its four wins, it also averaged a relatively-modest six runs per game.
The returning players know they have to hit better this year.
“Working the counts and not swinging at bad pitches early — that’s what we really did last year a lot,” said Graham, who’s headed for Eastern Kentucky in the fall.
“We have to take what Coach (Dave) Gordon says and just have a quality at-bat every time,” said Small, referring to the Dover High coach. “Whatever team has the most quality at-bats is probably going to win. That’s what we’ve got to do here.”
“Last year we didn’t hit well at all,” said Turner. “I think we’ll hit better this year.”
Of course, with pitch-count rules, teams can never have enough pitching depth. District I has at least eight pitchers on its roster, including Camden-Wyoming’s Travis Dill, who was a freshman at Delaware State this spring.
Turner, who is managing the District I squad for the fourth time, would love to see this group of players get a chance to go to the Big League World Series, which is played in Easley, S.C.
“I think they’d like to finish up with something special,” said Turner. “Holding that banner at the end would be special for them. I’d like to go back (to the World Series) with them.”