Rebels rousing for state competition
The long wait for the 15-year-old Midwest Rebels is about to come to an end. The team begins play Friday in Ottawa at the 15U United States Specialty Sports Association 'AAA' and 'Major' division state tournament.
The team, coached by Baldwin skipper Brian Ash, played its final tune-up July 2. The doubleheader matched Ash's Rebels against the Topeka Cutters.
The games were scheduled with the sole intent to maintain the team's sharpness and enhance players' experience levels.
In the opener the Rebels rallied for a 4-3 eight-inning victory, passing a strong test of the team's character.
"The Cutters pitched their ace against us and he pitched well," said Rebels manager John Griffin. "We once again played solid defense, ran the bases well and let the bats come to life to secure the victory."
Ash and Griffin hope the team secured a sense of how to manage close games. The state tournament yields far more games of this nature than it does blowouts. That being the case, the Cutters' game may prove invaluable in developing the team's resolve. If patience is a virtue in baseball as well as life, A team must be comfortable in its ability to respond to hardship.
The development of this resolve reached new heights in the nightcap of the July 2 game. Early on, the Rebels faltered fundamentally, allowing the Cutters to surge to an 11-5 advantage. But in a remarkable example of the team's fortitude the Rebels again rallied to an improbable 13-11 victory.
"We made a couple of base running blunders and booted the ball around, but as has been the case with this group, they don't quit," Griffin said. "They kept hitting and running the bases and came back and again won a ballgame.
"We play team baseball and everyone on the team played a role in both of these come-from-behind victories."
The 16-year-old squad, coached by Eudora's Dirk Kinney, has the same incentive leading into state competition -- the ability to handle failure and, moreover, to turn the failure into a positive. Griffin commented on the issue following Kinney's Rebels split with a team from Topeka July 1.
"We have young men that need to understand that they can go 0-3 at the plate and still contribute to the team being successful," he said. "The game is won or lost on defense. The hits will come.
"You have to leave the last at bat behind and focus on the job now at hand. They're getting there. These kids have the potential to be pretty good. They have to believe in themselves and let the game come to them. Don't try to force the results and they'll be fine."
The state tournaments provide an exciting stage for the coaching staff to see the fulfillment of its intensive efforts. They have taught nearly everything they can teach -- now it's up to the players.
Kinney's club will spend another anxious week before they begin their run July 17 at the Johnson County 3-and-2.
If the teams are successful at state and finish in the top four they can open doors to national tournaments. The 15U national tournaments are in Indianapolis. The 16U national tournaments are in Orlando, Fla.
The tune-up games that both the 15- and 16-year-old teams participated in would not have been possible without members of the Eudora community assisting in the process, Griffin said. Kenny Massey, Rod Moyer and Kevin Wade served as the umpiring crew for the July 1 and 2 games. Eric Smith graciously prepared the playing field, he said.
"We play on a lot of fields every year all over the country, and the EHS field is as good as any," Griffin said. "He had the field shining, a great representation of Eudora."