Rebels pack up rivalries
High school baseball seasons don't end: They evolve.
During the high school baseball season, geography plays a critical role. There is no love lost between the two neighboring schools of Eudora and Baldwin.
Despite the stiff competition during the school year, the two rivals come together in the summertime. Eudora coach Dirk Kinney and Baldwin coach Brian Ash have joined forces to coach the Midwest Rebels. A 15-year-old team coached by Ash and a 16-year-old team coached by Kinney compose the Rebels.
John Griffin manages the teams with aid from Phil Hannon, coach of Baker University and a former Chicago Cub.
Griffin enjoys watching the two coaches set aside traditional rivalries to achieve joint objectives.
"It's fun to watch these baseball coaches working together as a team," Griffin said. "True baseball coaches running true baseball teams is fun to watch. I just try to stay out of the way."
It can be exceptionally fun to watch a champion, and that's just what the Rebels are. The 15- and 16-year-old squads each claimed berths in the state tournament during the past two weeks in tournament qualifiers.
Eudora players make up the great majority of the 16-year-old team. Cole Massey, Rod Evinger, Paul Smith, Joe Kaup, Kyle Brouhard, Miles Cleveland and Brendan Jackson come from Cardinal Country. The roster also contains a Baldwin contingent of Scott Johnson, Matt Bolin and Ricky Baker.
Kinney's team competed in the USSSA Father's Day Tournament in Ottawa June 13-15. The Rebels went 4-1, claiming the tournament title and securing a trip to state.
"They played outstanding team baseball Sunday," Griffin said. "They really put the bats together. All the kids played great."
During the weekend, the team failed to match its Father's Day success, but Kinney's kids will get another tune-up before state with weekend action at the Johnson County 3-and-2 ballfields.
Although this past weekend was a small setback for the 16-year-olds, the own ticket to the state tournament.
Cardinals under Ash's leadership are Luke Abel, Mark Abel, Chad Griffin and Rodney Spillman. Jeremy Wright, Cory Wright, Aaron Hannon, John Brown and Ryan Jorgensen represent Baldwin. Mark Albers, Brian Heere and Daren Parker of Lawrence round out the talented group.
"We are exceptionally fast at the top with Jeremy Wright and Luke Abel back-to-back," Griffin said. "Brian Heere, Chad Griffin, Corey Wright and Mark Albers have a lot of power with a lot of speed in front of them. The top six really can do some damage."
The younger Rebels kicked off their run Saturday against the Independence Hurricanes. The Rebels blew by the Hurricanes 16-2.
"Everybody contributed, there were too many great individual performances to single anyone out," raved Griffin.
The win earned the team a shot at the North Kansas City Angels Saturday night. The Angels had already qualified for nationals and the Missouri State Tournament. In a true battle, the Rebels outlasted the Angels 10-7.
"They exhibited tremendous team play both offensively and defensively," Griffin said.
They took on the Kansas City Blue Jays on Sunday. The Rebels hung around early before a late rally put the game out of reach. The end result was a 10-7 win and a championship opportunity.
In the championship, the Rebels met an Angel team eager for redemption. The team from North Kansas City defeated a higher seed to earn the right to the rematch. The Rebels, however, overcame the Angels' motivation, claiming the title with a 7-2 victory.
"I was concerned, but the kids rose to the occasion," Griffin said. "Again tough defense, speed and pitching held on until the bats came alive."
The 15-year-olds will also compete this weekend in preparation for state.
Kinney will take his team to the Johnson County 3-and-2 ballfields July 17 through 20 to compete for the state crown. Ash will take his Rebels back to Ottawa July 10 through 13 for their shot at state.
The rival coaches and players are on the verge of achieving together what they have yet to achieve apart.
"Both clubs are over the Eudora/Baldwin/Lawrence stuff," Griffin said. "They're officially a team.
"It's interesting watching these two coaches develop kids during the summer that are going to be put in the position to beat you in the spring. But nobody cares because you're making kids better and promoting baseball."