In the six years of competition in Little League International, the Lufkin All-Stars have made it to the Southwest Regional Tournament twice. The first in their 2012 debut year and their second is this year. Only one person has been part of both; first as a player and now as a coach.
"I know how to prepare these boys for what they could be expecting," Assistant Coach Dillon McDuffie said. "It's a lot different game over there."
The Lufkin All Stars are in the final walkthroughs before the Little League Southwest Regional. As they work through the Texas heat, they are looking to someone who has already been where they have. Between at bats and during drills, McDuffie is trying to give whatever advice he can. He was the 2nd baseman for the only other Majors Division team to make it this far. In 2012, the Lufkin All-Stars made it to the regional tournament but would eventually loose to McCalister Little League representing Texas West. While McDuffie's group was happy to be in the tournament, he believes there is a different determination in this group.
"They are more knowledgeable about it," McDuffie said. "They are learning easier than we did. They have athleticism too."
Just the thought of helping the 12 year-olds make it to the World Series in Williamsport, PA, pushed McDuffie to urge the kids on in every way possible. During drills he can be heard across the field encouraging the outfields to pick up their speed in chasing a ball that reached the gap. When a fielder make a great catch or hits the cutoff man perfectly, McDuffie has a smile and is cheering them on.
"You got to stay on them," McDuffie said. "You can't give them too much credit but they are working hard and there is some good to come out of it."
With all the experience on coaching side, McDuffie might be the one that connects the most on their level.
"The players love him and they ask him questions about how it was when he was here," Manager Bud Maddux said. "He does a good job."
The team has become local legends. Many consider them a long ball team, with them belting out 39 homeruns in their nine games so far. McDuffie said he is always reminding the team that the road to Williamsport is about to get a lot tougher.
"The teams there have done the same exact things that they have done," McDuffie said. "They have beat people by [large] margins. They have people throwing hard, so everybody there is like them."
The Lufkin All-Stars will have their first regional tournament game at 10 a.m. on Thursday against the Colorado All-Stars.