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Missions, baseball mix as Dixie wins championship

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ST. GEORGE, Utah — When asked what they are going to do now that they've won a national championship, several members of the Dixie State College baseball team would appropriately answer, "I'm going on a mission!"

The Rebels pulled out a 4-3 victory over San Jacinto College North of Houston, Texas, in the title game of the National Junior College Athletics Association tournament at Grand Junction, Colo., Saturday evening, June 5. Among the players on the Dixie roster were six returned missionaries, and as many as eight are planning to go on missions now that the season is over. At least two already have their calls in hand.

The Rebels, who won their first four games of the national tournament, could have taken the crown a night earlier, but lost 9-1 to San Jacinto, setting up the winner-takes-all finale Saturday. Dixie had handed the Gators their first loss of the tourney Tuesday night, 10-9, in 11 innings.

The climactic final game had a familiar feel for three of the returned missionaries — pitchers Kyle Pratt and Dave Horlacher, and outfielder Trevor Heid. Just prior to leaving on their missions, they were members of the Dixie team that played for the 2001 national championship. But then, they had to deal with the opposite emotion from this year after losing a 7-6 heartbreaker to North Central Texas.

Dixie coach Mike Littlewood said during a Church News telephone interview that the missionary inclinations of potential team members "doesn't even come into play when I'm recruiting."

But he does run a missionary-friendly program, never discouraging his current players from going on missions and giving returned missionaries a shot at making the team again. Before the recruiting season, he said, he interviews the players so he can structure recruiting around their missionary plans.

Still reveling in the glow of bringing the national trophy to St. George, the coach said he believes having returned missionaries on the team is beneficial.

"The biggest thing it does for us is, when they get back, it gives us more maturity on the team. It makes us more balanced," he said, adding that the older players help keep the freshmen focused.

He said he would never discourage a player from going on a mission. "It's definitely going to help them in life," he said. "And when they find out that baseball isn't life, it often helps them to play better."

The coach noted that it would be unwise for anyone to say, after what Dixie State has done, that working with the missionary program is an insurmountable obstacle to success on the diamond.

E-mail: ghill@desnews.com