Rebels racing to Indianapolis
The Midwest Rebels made a major statement Sunday in Ottawa at the United States Specialty Sports Association Major and AAA State Tournament. Head coach Brian Ash, coach Phil Hannon and manager John Griffin led their 15-year-old squad to a remarkable second-place finish.
"All the kids contributed to make it a great weekend," Griffin said. "Brian Ash and Phil Hannon coached the kids extremely well, and the kids responded with effort and execution."
The achievement either capped off a highly successful summer or proved a springboard for national endeavors. Teams that finish in the top four of state tournaments open doors to national World Series tournaments. Consider the door open for the Rebels.
"Plans are being explored with the intent of going to Indianapolis/Greenfield, Ind., for the 15-and-under NBC World Series," Griffin said. "We are trying to pull together all of our families to go."
The World Series begins July 25 and runs through July 31.
Only 10 teams earned a trip to the tournament in Ottawa. Qualifying for state was made difficult by a short season that was greatly complicated by plenty of rainouts.
"Even though there were only 10 teams, the teams that were there were pretty darn good," Griffin said.
The teams were a mix of AAA and major division teams. Major teams generally consist of players that are considered the best in their age group. They characteristically have played together for years and compete in the most competitive tournaments nationwide.
'AAA' teams -- such as the Rebels -- consist of players whose love for the game and desire to improve motivate their participation. Their travel schedule is lighter and is more regionally focused.
The Rebels opened pool play Friday against the AAA Wichita Dawgs. The Rebels announced themselves with a 10-1 routing.
Friday night's game was lost to a sudden thunderstorm that brought with it golfball- and baseball-size hail.
In contrast, Saturday and Sunday brought high humidity and temperatures in the mid-90s.
"The kids played their guts out in extreme situations," Griffin said.
At high noon Saturday the Rebels matched up against a major team in the K.C. Royals. Despite a tremendous effort from starter Ryan Jorgensen the Rebels fell 4-2.
"Even though Ryan got the loss against the K.C. Royals to have kept us in a 4-2 game against a major-division team was an outstanding performance," Griffin said.
Saturday evening the Rebels once again matched up with a AAA team, the Old Ballgame Monarchs. The Rebels dethroned the Monarchs with a 6-0 shutout.
The Rebels completed pool play with a 2-1 record. They accumulated that record while allowing only five runs.
Four teams were eliminated Friday and Saturday. The Rebels by virtue of their two wins and miniscule ERA was seeded third among the remaining six teams.
The Rebels met another AAA team Sunday morning in the Pittsburg-Farrell Insurance. The Rebels amassed seven 'insurance' runs in the 9-1whipping. The victory propelled the three-seed into the championship game.
In the title match, the Eudora nine were stung 10-2 by the Hornets; a AAA team from Shawnee Mission Northwest. The Hornets competed as a major-division team the past three years before a change in the spring.
"The championship game results were disappointing," Griffin admitted. "Yet to have played in it was a great experience.
"The Rebels' pitching staff made that experience possible. Daren Parker from Lawrence won two games in the tournament. Baldwin's Jorgensen and Cory Wright also pitched well.
"I was really pleased with our pitching through the first four games," Griffin said. "It was the best pitching performances of the year."
Now the manager, coaches and families must work out the details on a trip to Indy. The team itself has earned an opportunity to rest and heal.
As for this week, it's Dirk Kinney's turn. The Eudora coach leads his 16-year-old Rebels into state play Thursday at Johnson County 3 and 2. At stake is a possible invitation to the 16U World Series in Orlando, Fla.