Rebels earn cause to celebrate
The Midwest Rebels are state champions. The 16-and-under summer baseball team achieved the ultimate goal during the weekend at Johnson County 3 and 2. And they did so in an impressive fashion. In six games, the Rebels outscored their opponents 70-8.
Although the squad was an impressive 17-6, they limped into the state tournament.
"We had lost three in a row coming in," coach Dirk Kinney said. "We hit a big bump in the road. They were three really good teams but we were really in a slump as a team; especially hitting-wise."
The slumping Rebels were one of 18 teams competing in three games of pool play -- with eight teams advancing to the tournament. The eventual state champs kicked off pool play by kicking around the Raiders from Shawnee Mission South. The Rebels spanked the SMS squad 15-1 in four innings.
It was an amazing awakening for the skidding Rebels.
"We had quite a while off in between games with all the rain," Kinney said. "And the kids were ready to play.
"It was a very nice way to start the tournament."
The Olathe Northwest Ravens provided the next test. But the Rebels routed the Olathe squad 12-1 in five innings.
Cory Wright and Kyle Brouhard combined, allowing three hits while striking out seven. The top three in the Rebels' order (Miles Cleveland, Ryan Jorgensen and Michael Sickinger) set the tone scoring six runs.
"Our top three spots were pretty nice," Kinney said. "Those three guys got it rolling.
"And we got some really good pitching. Cory Wright and Kyle Brouhard threw the ball pretty well."
Cruising through the first two games, the team hit some turbulence in the third game. The Bonner Springs Pirates jumped out to an early 3-0 lead. That lead held until the sixth. The Rebels rallied with a pair in the sixth and one in the seventh. And in the 14th, the Rebels finally finished off the Pirates on a hit to right center field by Sickinger that scored Jeremy Wright for the 4-3 win.
"Kyle (Brouhard) threw his tail off to keep us in the game," Kinney said. "We went back into a slump with the sticks. We struck out way too many times. We had base running blunders and we didn't field the ball very well.
"It was a game to get everything out of our systems."
Brouhard tossed seven innings of one-hit ball, striking out seven.
The win over the Pirates secured the Rebels as the top seed heading into tournament play. The first victim was the Blue Valley North Mustangs. The Rebels exploded for a 15-0 run-rule victory in three innings.
"We made a lineup change and put Luke Abel at the lead-off spot and he got it rolling for us every game," Kinney said. "He set the tone and the other guys rolled with it."
The game marked the beginning of a remarkable streak by Luke Abel. The Rebels' new lead-off man went 7-for-7 with four walks during the three tournament games.
The Rebels advanced to the tournament semi-finals where they ran over the Blue Valley Tigers 9-0 in five innings.
The Olathe East Hawks opposed the Rebels in the championship game.
The Rebels jumped out to an early 4-0 lead in the bottom of the first. The Hawks responded with three in their half of the second.
"Which as a coach sort of made me nervous," Kinney said. "It was almost a brand new ball game. But with four in the bottom of the second we kind of closed the door.
The Rebels scored 11 unanswered, claiming a 15-3 triumph in four innings -- and the state championship.
"Then when we scored four runs in the bottom of the first, at that point I didn't think anybody could stop us," Kinney said
The championship was especially satisfying for the Eudora contingent of Kinney, Luke Abel, Mark Abel, Brouhard, Cleveland and Rodney Spillman.
"Those five boys played well this summer and got a lot better," he said. "The goal is not to win a state championship. Our goal is to make the kids better for the spring."
But the coach is proud of the entire team -- a collection from Baldwin City, Eudora and Lawrence.
"They did what they were asked and they got a lot better. It's very rare that 16-year-old boys go 23-6."