Rebels run over by SME sophomores at season’s end
Fall officially begins Sept. 23, but as far as the 16-year-old Midwest Rebels are concerned, summer ended Saturday.
The Rebels competed last weekend in the state tournament at the Johnson County 3 and 2 complex. The team, under the direction of head coach Dirk Kinney and manager John Griffin, fell painfully short of advancing through pool play. The end result was a missed opportunity to qualify for the 16-and-under World Series in Orlando, Fla.
Kinney's Rebels completed Saturday's pool play with a 2-1 record. Three teams -- the Rebels, the Shawnee Mission Northwest Cougars and the Shawnee Mission East Sophomores -- finished with the same record. Runs allowed determined the tiebreaker. The Rebels allowed 12, the Cougars allowed 10, and the SME Sophomores allowed just eight. Thus it was the SME Sophomores moving on to Sunday, and the Cougars and Rebels looking forward to the school year.
"The kids are upset," Kinney said. "But at the same time they did what they had to do. They won two games and typically 12 runs in three games is pretty darn good. They'll learn from it and be that much better next year."
The tourney began Friday night against that Shawnee Mission East sophomore squad. Eudora's Rod Evinger pitched well in a tough 3-0 loss. Evinger held the SME squad hitless through the first six innings, yielding only a pair of unearned runs. The effort was spoiled by the team's inability to manufacture runs of its own.
With their backs against the wall, the Rebels took on the Shawnee Mission East freshman team Saturday morning. The Rebels placed a tally in the win column prevailing 13-6. Three more Cardinals -- Paul Smith, Joe Kaup and Kyle Brouhard -- shared in pitching in the victory.
The Rebels trailed 6-0 until the fifth inning. In a fashion typical of Kinney's Eudora team, the Rebels used the big inning to erase the deficit. The Rebel rousing netted 13 runs in the fifth frame, ending a tournament-long scoreless streak.
Kaup took the mound again Saturday afternoon against the Cougars. The Rebels needed to win the game to maintain any chance at advancing to play on Sunday. A gutsy effort earned Kaup his second win of the day with a 4-3 Rebels victory.
The tiebreaker eliminated the Rebels, but the team managed to conclude its campaign on a winning note.
"If we have to end the season, it was nice to end on a win," Griffin said. "I'm sorry the season is over for the 16-year-olds, but I think they learned from the summer."
The Rebels were an unlikely mix of players from rival schools Eudora and Baldwin. The team's success this summer is a credit to the coaches' ability to mesh rivals into legitimate state contenders.
"Coach Kinney took a group of kids from both Baldwin and Eudora and taught them what was necessary to win," Griffin said.
The meshing of rival talent extends beyond the players to the coaches themselves. Baldwin head coach Brian Ash coached the 15-year-old Rebels team, which qualified for the World Series in Indianapolis, Ind., the previous weekend. The combination of players and coaches from these rivals is intriguing.
"I really look forward to the EHS versus BHS baseball games in the spring of 2004," Griffin said. "It should be a heck of a game when these kids and coaches hook it up against each other after playing all summer as a team. Each coach will know the other's tendencies and the player's strengths and weaknesses. It will make for good baseball and even intensify the rivalry more."
"It will be that much more heated when spring rolls around," he said. "You don't want to lose to your best friend."
In the meantime the Eudora coach is extremely proud of his small-town team.
"People take us lightly when you hear Eudora or Baldwin," Kinney said. "When you end up getting the win, it gives Eudora and Baldwin that much more respect. I want to instill the attitude that whomever we play, regardless of their classification, we are going to step out on the field and beat them."
The team's achievement against 6A teams resonates respect for small class teams throughout the area. Everyone loves an underdog, but Kinney and his counterparts, such as Ash, are on a mission to erase the underdog label. After all, everyone loves a winner, too.
One of the most important steps in the venture occurs in the summer off-season.
"You can't make baseball players in two and a half months in the spring," Kinney said. "They get better in the summer, fall and winter. Spring is just when you play the games."