EASLEY, SC (WTKR)- It's the pinnacle of the youth baseball championship season. Leagues from all across the country, in some tournaments the world, compete for crowns under the hot summer sun. One area squad entered Wednesday just two wins away from claiming a world title.
The Fleet Park Senior All-Stars are a group of 15 and 16 year old players from Norfolk. They won the Southeast Region tournament in Florida last week and have taken Easley, South Carolina, site of the Senior Little League World Series, by storm. Fleet Park has won its first three games, putting itself two victories away from claiming the crown.
"Friday's our championship game and to us and the team it just seems like another tournament that we're going to win," said manager Jerry Stilwell. "Nobody's thinking that it's the United States World Championship."
The squad opened its tournament stay by taking down defending champion Hawaii, 12-2. After another victory, Fleet Park topped Texas on Tuesday afternoon, 6-1, to earn a spot in the United States final. A win in that game against a to-be-determined opponent would propel the group into the World Series final against an international opponent. Stilwell says the gravity of the event could hit the team this weekend, but right now it's just full speed ahead.
"Right now it's just 'what's our next challenge?,'" he said of the team's approach. "It's cool to watch it on TV, but, to be honest, that's kind of the only thing that's changing their mindsets right now."
Stilwell laughed as he discussed his players learning their surroundings. They've warmed up to what he calls a "beautiful facility" in Easley, but the players might still be getting used to some new-found fame that comes with competing on a big stage.
"They're starting to feel the pressure of just being a rock-star around this town," the manager smiled. "They left the game the other day and there were just swarms of girls just all over the place. It's like 'guys, let's get you on the bus, let's go!'"
Win or lose, players, coaches and parents are all going through the experience of a lifetime. Players are also learning that they're role models when they're under the bright lights. While Fleet Park hopes it can complete the journey with two more wins, the young stars are making memories that they will carry with them forever.
"It'll be an experience they'll never forget," Stilwell said. "It'll be an experience I'll never forget."
Fleet Park will play in the United States final on Friday at 7:30 PM, which will be streamed live on ESPN+. With a victory, the squad would play in the Senior Little League Final on Saturday at 4:00 PM on ESPN.