It was the bus trip the players on the American Legion baseball team from Albemarle Post 74 had been working all season for.
The undefeated Virginia state champions loaded up Wednesday morning for Asheboro, North Carolina, and this year's American Legion Southeast Regional Tournament. Post 74 opens play in the eight-team, double-elimination tournament against the host team from Dixon Post 45 at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
This marks the second straight season that Post 74 has reached the regional tournament.
"About half the team on the team this year got to experience it last year," said outfielder A.J. Willy. "And every single one of them said it was probably one of the best experiences they ever had in their life. We've been telling all the younger kids how much fun it was last year, and how we want to get back there again."
Willy is one of seven players making the return trip to Asheboro this year. Post 74 went 2-2 in the regional tournament last summer -- and has used that experience as motivation this year.
"We went down there last year, and we were kind of not sure if we could win the whole thing or not. And we won our first game against Florida, and we were like, "Wow, we can compete with these teams,"" said the team's manager, Mike Maynard. "So this year we're going down there with a purpose. We don't know if we can win it, but we're going to give it everything we've got."
"We know what to expect down here," said Willy. "The teams are a lot better than they were in the states. They're representing, I think, eight states down here. So it's going to be a lot of really good competition. And if we pitch the way that we've been pitching all year, I think we have a good chance down here."
Post 74 has gone all summer without a loss, including a 4-0 performance last week at the Virginia state tournament.
Outfielder Keegan Woolford attributed the team's consistency this summer to "just a good group of guys."
"Good coaching," he added. "We all, we gel together really well. And we all like each other. So we play for each other when we're out there."
"We compete in every game. We never give up. And our defense is always there for us," said Maynard. "We've thrown strikes all year long, and the bats got hot at the right time, and we've got a couple of really good hitters there in the middle of the order, which makes my life a lot easier. We've got some good players on this team."