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The one to watch: 19U all-stars building up confidence as defending champs

All eyes are on Vidalia.

When the Louisiana Purple Sox 19U all-star team takes the field at its state tournament this weekend in New Orleans, there’s no doubt they’ll be the favorite. But the key to repeating last year’s title, coach Greg Naquin said, is not to be overconfident.

“They can’t just throw their gloves on the field and expect to win. They still have to play,” he said. “These kids have played ball enough and are good enough to win it, but with baseball you have to execute.”

While Naquin said he plans to be the levelheaded one, he said he doesn’t mind his players being the opposite.

“There’s some quiet and some not so quiet, but I think it’s a good mix,” he said. “I’m usually not really outspoken, but I do like to teach them.

“You have to be confident without being cocky. There’s a difference. Going in thinking we can’t be beat is a good mindset, we just can’t let up.”

With talent such as Christian Day — a two-year veteran at Copiah-Lincoln Community College and Delta State University signee — as well as three other recent graduates to attend college on baseball scholarships, the Purple Sox seem to have nothing to worry about.

Vidalia is also returning five of its players from last year’s championship team, including Darion Jones, a 2017 graduate of Jena High School.

“We have to have the mentality that we can beat everybody,” Jones said. “I don’t think anyone can stop us.

“It makes me go even harder when I know people are looking at me. They have our names sitting on a bulletin board pinpointed. We’ll just have to see when we get there.”

The Purple Sox not only have talented athletes but also talented position players, including catcher Cameron Rodgers and a host of ace pitchers.

“I also don’t have a problem with putting somebody in another position they haven’t played because they are good enough athletes to be able to execute that, too,” Naquin said. “I mean I can only put nine guys on the field, and in a sense it’s not easy because I have to find the right mix in certain situations of the game.”

Naquin said if anything were to stop the Purple Sox, it would be their hitting.

“I’m a little worried about a pitcher throwing into the upper 90s,” he said. “I think we have enough hitting, but I think a really good pitcher might cause us some trouble.

“Then again, I really don’t know because I haven’t seen the teams yet.”

Even with the slight uncertainty, Naquin said he likes his chances.

“I’ve never been more confident this year than the other years we’ve been in it,” he said. “We are the team to beat.”

The Purple Sox will play their first game of the tournament at 4 p.m. Saturday against the winner of Ponchatoula and Winnsboro, receiving a first-round bye after winning last year’s title.

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