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Western Carolina Angels 8U squad helping build next generation of Polk standouts

Polk County’s next generation of baseball standouts is already beginning to accumulate trophies in 2014.

The Western Carolina Angels 8U squad won the April Fools Challenge tourney last weekend in Greenville, S.C.

The Western Carolina Angels 8U squad won the April Fools Challenge tourney last weekend in Greenville, S.C.

The Western Carolina Angels 8U team, with half its roster from Polk County, came home as tournament champs from the USSSA April Fools Challenge, held this past weekend in Greenville, S.C. Polk County Middle School head football and basketball coach Billy Alm is one of the team’s coaches, with his son, Gunnar, the youngest player on the team.

The 8U team will travel to several tournaments this spring and summer and might well win a number of them, Alm said.

“With the 8U teams, it’s all machine pitch,” Alm said. “We have 10 players in the field, four outfielders, the regular infield and someone on the mound.

“Defensively, just from the teams I’ve seen in the last two and a half years, and not being biased just because my son plays and I coach, this might be the best team I’ve seen all around. We have a core four that we’ve had since Gunnar was five and those guys were six, and we’ve kind of built the team around them. With our success, we’ve had a lot of people interested in playing with us, and we’ve had the chance to pick who we want.”

The Western Carolina Angels are a travel baseball organization based in Green Creek and headed by Craig Collins. Players from throughout Western North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina are part of the organization, which states as its goal “providing young players the chance to improve their baseball skills through professional and proven national level coaches. Playing a highly competitive schedule both locally and nationally will allow each player to take his/her game to the next level.” The organization’s 9U team also finished as tournament champions at the April Fools Challenge.

Alm’s team includes not only players from Polk County, but also Hendersonville, Burnsville, Chesnee, S.C. and Gaffney, S.C.

“Someone like Craig Collins, who is the head of (the program), he’s a standup guy, first of all,” Alm said. “When Craig gets an idea, he pursues it all the way. He has turned this not just into an organization, but an organization that is highly respected.

“For me, it has been a lot of fun.”

The Angels 8U squad typically practices once per week, then travels to tournaments on the weekends. Alm expects the team to enter eight to 10 tournaments this year.

“We’ve talked about taking a couple of weekends off in June, then maybe coming back later in June and then entering the USSSA U.S. tournament in South Carolina in July,” Alm said.

“The Polk kids sometimes get together and hit extra. I’ve got all the time in the world now, so it’s great for me. It’s been fun, especially watching these four guys who have been together grow up.”

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