Rebels rousing spirit
The Midwest Rebels are back in full swing this year.
The 16-and-younger baseball team has been taking the "off" out of the off-season for several years. And the team has been turning it on lately.
The Rebel roster consists of five players from Baldwin City -- Aaron Hannon, Ryan Jorgensen, Matt Kretzschmer, Cory Wright and Jeremy Wright; four from Lawrence -- Nick DeBiasse, Daren Parker, Michael Sickinger and Tom Willoughby; and five from Eudora -- Luke Abel, Mark Abel, Kyle Brouhard, Miles Cleveland and Rodney Spillman.
A talented and equally diverse group leads the team into battle nearly every Wednesday and weekend.
Eudora head coach Dirk Kinney joins rival Baldwin coach Brian Ash, and Baker University coach Phil Hannon. Eudoran John Griffin lends his talents as team manager.
"Dirk (Kinney) and Phil (Hannon) are working well with the kids from different high schools," Griffin said. "This year's Rebels team is now finding its own identity. Every weekend we get a little better. We are still learning and molding as a team, but we are getting better, and the kids are starting to understand their roles."
The squad (17-3) claimed its first tournament championship Sunday. Its triumph ends a brief title-game slump. The Rebels were 0-2 in two previous championship opportunities this season.
"It's starting to come together for us," Kinney said. "We had already made it to two championships and lost both.
"The kids are playing well in all three phases. And now we're starting to roll at the right time."
The Rebels stood on top of a field flooded with 6A talents. Participants included teams from Shawnee Mission East, Shawnee Mission West (freshmen), Shawnee Mission West (sophomores) and Blue Valley Northwest.
"We beat some pretty talented 6A schools, and I think we're supposed to beat them," Kinney said. "We just had great pitching. It was awesome."
Parker set the tone beginning the tournament with a 5-0 shutout of East.
Eudora's Brouhard followed with a 2-1 victory over the West sophomores. Brouhard went the distance, allowing one run on just three hits while striking out eight.
Jeremy Wright and the Rebels run-ruled the West freshmen 12-0 in four innings for the team's third-consecutive win. The Baldwin Bulldog allowed no runs, no hits and struck out six. He went 3-for-3 from the plate for good measure.
The Rebels then edged Northwest 7-4 in the tourney semifinals. Cory Wright got the win.
Jorgensen got the call for the championship game -- a rematch with the West sophomores. He put the Rebels in position to win with six strong innings, allowing two runs on three hits while striking out seven.
Jorgensen left the game in the seventh with no outs and the tying runs on base. Cardinal Mark Abel got the call, closing the game and sealing the championship. And he did.
The Rebels escaped with a 5-3 victory and a tourney title. The team carried a big stick throughout the tournament. But it was the small ball that carried the team over the top.
"We hit the ball hard, but we did all the little things well," Kinney said. "We bunted really well. And we had four delayed steals that may have won the game for us."
The ability to work on the little things is what makes the Rebels experience so valuable, Kinney said.
"This is a time we can really get better," Kinney said. "That's what summer ball is all about. The baseball season is just too short."
The Rebels victorious weekend should dramatically help the team's confidence as it begins to look ahead toward the ultimate championship -- the state championship July 16 through 18 at Johnson County 3 and 2.
But there is still plenty of work to be done before then. The Rebels had a mid-week contest Wednesday with the KC Royals in Eudora, but the outcome was not available at press time.
This weekend the team competes at the Ottawa Summer Smash.