Austin (Texas) Gold Sox general manager Wayne Elliott considers this to be the best team he's taken to the National Baseball Congress World Series.
Today, Elliott will see if that's good enough to get past the Cape Girardeau Craftsman Union Capahas in a 1 p.m. first-round game of the 68th annual tournament in Wichita, Kan.
"Last year I didn't think we were any good and we beat two Jayhawk League teams and won three games, so you never know," Elliott said. "I know the Capahas have a good tradition and we're expecting a tough game."
The Gold Sox (28-6), in existence 11 years and making their ninth straight NBC World Series appearance -- they have tied for 11th twice, including last season -- consist of exclusively current college players, most of them from the Austin area.
Most of the squad's players are not from high-profile collegiate programs, although the majority compete in NCAA Division I.
The leading hitter for the Gold Sox does play at a perennial national power -- Baylor, although he had just one at-bat as a redshirt freshman this year -- and has fairly famous bloodlines. Reid Brees, the younger brother of San Diego Chargers quarterback Drew Brees, is batting .394 with five home runs.
Alonzo Soliz, who plays at Northwestern State in Louisiana, is hitting .356 and is tied with Brees for the team lead in homers with five.
Jeff Hunt, a junior college player, bats .348 for the Gold Sox, who carry a team batting average of .294.
Texan Lankford will start
On the mound today, the Capahas will see ace Nick Lankford, a left-hander from Southwest Texas State who is 4-1 with a 0.64 earned-run average. Although not overpowering, according to Elliott, Lankford has struck out 55 batters in 28 1/3 innings.
Pitching has been his team's strength, said Elliott of the Gold Sox's 1.93 team ERA.
"Most of our games have been low scoring," Elliott said.
The strength for the Capahas (27-9) this season has also been pitching, although manager Jess Bolen is hopeful that his offense will pick up in Kansas after having just 24 hits in four NBC Mid-South Regional games.
"As good as our pitching and defense have been, if our hitting can come around, we can make some noise out there," Bolen said.
The Capahas, making their 17th consecutive World Series appearance, went 1-2 in the tournament last year. They have 11 top-10 finishes and five times they've been in the top seven, including a fourth place and two fifth-place ties.
"You just never know what team you take out there is going to really do well," Bolen said. "We're capable of having a really good tournament."
Richie Phillips (5-1) will be on the mound today. If the Capahas win, they won't play again until Saturday, at a time to be determined. If they lose, they'll have an elimination game at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.
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