Belmont Bandits 9U baseball team
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2017 BELMONT BANDITS
May 21, 2017 - With so much drama in the GNC.....
Gastonia, North Carolina that is. What a Sunday it was; drama from the first at bat in game one until the last out in game two. What a ride. Buckle up.
Game one was against the Fort Mill Gators. These guys came out swinging, with all their saved pitching ready for a knockout blow. They did really well, and kept in this game with scrappy play and resourcefulness. Again, plenty of talent from this group as was evident by some of their swings and plays in the field. They were the lower seed, and had to hit first in the game. So, in the top of the first they slapped two on the board and put the Bandits in a deficit early. We had several dramatic situations, highlighted by our initial turn at bat in the bottom of the first. We had a leadoff hitter hammer a double down the opposite line from the side he hits from, and the ball hit the base as it skidded down the line. The ball actually popped up 3-4 feet when it hit, and made a noticeable thud. The home plate umpire immediately called the ball "foul", which put our group behind the eight ball immediately. A couple more pretty awful calls gave our coaches reason to remind the boys in between innings one and two that the adversity we always talk about overcoming was omni-present and no excuse would be made or helpful to utter. We had to bear down, and prove ourselves to more than just the 9 in the field. Out of the 10,000 or so balls I've seen hit a base, that is the first time I've ever seen an Ump call one foul. For you newcomers to baseball who may be unfamiliar about the rules, all three bases are located in fair territory. So, if you attended the game today, you were one of the few people on earth who have seen that call made. You may sooner see the elusive bigfoot or maybe a unicorn roaming a pasture before you see that call made in a baseball game again. The Bandits settled in, behind the grand pitching of Patrick Blee and rode his arm to a solid win over the course of four innings. The Banditos broke this game wide open with a big third inning where they scored nine runs. That always helps out when you are trying to win a baseball game. Offensively, we got some things going and were lead by Landon King (2-2, 1B, 3B, BB, 2 runs), Dalton Skipper (2-2, 2 singles, 1 run) and Brody Crawford who had 2-3 (1B, 2B, 1 run scored). Walker Spargo also went 1-1. He also walked one time, but his single jump-started our big third inning, and gave our team momentum that carried on throughout the rest of the inning. He scored two runs on the day as well, and was a sparkplug on offense for us. We ended the game after four innings, with a 13-3 victory. This propelled us into the Gold Championship game which was played immediately after this game concluded.
Then we have the Roberson RAMblers. You will not find a better played game in North Carolina outside of High School than these two 9u teams showed us in game two. They have a great coaching staff and a talent bucket that is beyond full, but the skill they showed during the game was most impressive. They consistently robbed very hard hit balls in the infield and outfield, many times with diving plays or back handed stabs where they had no other choice but to perform the action shown. Our staff just kind of shook their collective heads at some of the plays they made; it is hard to believe they are 9u. This game was played a quick pace, because of how well both sides pitched and played defense. The Bandits looked like a miniature version of the 1960s Cincinnati Reds for this championship Sunday due to the uniforms won in a previous tournament this year. The boys looked sharp, and were out to win some more prizes.
We had Blake Hartness on the mound for the Bandits, and he pitched the best game any Bandit has pitched this year in this game...when it mattered the most. At the end of 5 complete innings, we held a 1-0 lead thanks to Walker Spargo's early double in the third inning, and ability to get around the bases and score without being hit in. But, in the bottom of the 6th inning (our last inning of regulation play), the talented and forthright RAMblers scraped out a run when it was needed most. Hartness was masterful in his game until this inning, until finally the Roberson bunch caught up to him with a couple of hits. With a leadoff double and triple by the Buncombe County Bombers, Blake was taken out in this inning. The triple knocked in the runner from second, so it was tied at 1-1....with a runner on third. In came Landon King. With no outs, a runner on third and IN THE BOTTOM of the 6th inning he unleashes a hard pitch that gets by the catcher and the runner from third is sent home by the coach. You have to make some unusual "baseball decisions" in youth travel baseball that you might not do in High School if you are coaching, and this was one of them. A close play at home was seen, and Landon covered the plate and snapped a tag on the runner to produce the first out of the inning. A momentary crisis averted, but this murderer's row of hitters still had two outs in their pocket, so the humid day became steamier for the Bandits as we knew we were not out of trouble just yet. The batter up to bat when the player on third was thrown out at the plate, walked. So, with one out, and one runner on the tension escalated once again as the winning run was back in play. To make matters worse, the batter up was the leadoff guy; typically those guys can hit and run pretty well....and he was no exception. With a two ball, one strike count the leadoff guy connects on a hard hit line shot that sent our left-handed centerfielder moving hard to his left (opposite glove hand side) to get close to making a play. Brody ends up snagging the baseball, and throwing it into Hartness at first base to get the double play, and the hell out of that inning. Momentum secured, motivation found and for the first time on Sunday I felt like this game was ours to secure.
Such highs and such lows. So, we have six innings complete in the books, and per Top Gun rules we begin the international tie-breaker mode where a runner starts on second base at the beginning of the inning for each team in the top and bottom half of the frame. Lucky for us, our fastest guy is put on second base, as he was the last batted out the previous inning. We have our second hitter up who happens to be a top hitter of ours too, and just like explained before that conventional baseball logic is kinda out the window at 9u travel. We don't bunt because a hit, a backside grounder or fly ball to the outfield will do a lot as well. Pruitt hits a hard hit ball to semi-short RF, and Coach Crawford calls for Brody to tag. He times it perfectly and takes off with an explosion of quickness. I know it will take a perfect throw to strike him down, and I got more than I bargained for. In the third base box, I have a perfect in line view of a throw from the right fielder that is dead on target straight. In the moment, I see that the throw MAY be a little short which could create a big short hop with top spin for the third baseman...so I let the runner continue. What I did not bargain for was that in addition to the near perfect, strong throw was the slick third baseman who has obviously listened to some really good coaching or is just a baseball wunderkind. He closes on the throw (up the baseline about three feet), and by doing so avoids the tough top spin hop and tags the baserunner out in a bang-bang play. If he would've waited on that ball to catch on the up hop, and tried to put a tag on the runner, the play would have resulted in a safe call....but the RF-3B combo is real good and made a great baseball play together. Coach Crawford- 0, RF and 3B - 1. So, we start our first inning of extra innings giving up our runner at second, and making the first out at third. I could be hanged for less in many baseball-knowledgeable counties around the south. We go on to not score in this inning, and a misjudgement by our coach may cost this team the game. Enter Landon King....once again. In the bottom of the seventh he comes in and strikes out three in a row, which also happen to be the 2nd, 3rd and 4th hitters. Oh by the way, they can all hit really well...so it makes King's effort even more impressive. So, a huge win for Landon on the mound to shut their big threat offensive guys out, and we get to play another inning.
We are lower seed and therefore the visitor in this game. So, in the top of 8th inning we needed another spark to rectify the previous inning's mishap. Aydan Bradley has been our hottest hitter the last two tournaments. In this tournament his hitting was pedestrian by comparision, and he mixed in some really good swings with some sloppy ones. Well, he righted the ship when he lead off this inning with a hammer shot triple to the fence which scored our runner that got to start on second base in the beginning of this inning. So, now we have a one-run lead, runner on third base and hitter pacing their cage and ready to get in the batter's box. Landon King immediately singles home Bradley to create a two run cushion. Blake Hartness refuses to be outdone and bullied a single into the outfield. Walker Spargo gets on base by a hit by pitch which loads the bases. Luke Lassiter steps up to the plate and gets on base with a fielder's choice. We have another out recorded which makes two outs and Dalton Skipper draws a walk which re-loads the bases. Brody Crawford comes up and gets retribution on these fielders that have snagged two previous line shots he hit for outs in this game, and delivers a bases clearing three-run triple. He later goes on to score on a passed ball and our inning ends with an 8-1 lead. All we have to do is get these RAMblers out of here with three outs. Is it ever that easy in baseball though?
Bottom of the 8th inning has their runner on second base and no outs ready, and their first hitter opens up with a triple. Next guy up offers a single, scoring the runner at third. So, they get on the board with a quick two runs and the Bandits coaches begin to pray for rain. King wasn't so worried though, and struck the next two batters out. After the next batter ran the count full and watched a close pitch (strike?) go by, he walked. King bore down and retired the next batter via strikeout ending the game. Hartness and King pitched a great game, and grew in baseball years by seven today. Hartness threw six innings, and King pitched three to combine on a gem of a baseball pitching performance.
Offensive leaders in this game were: Landon King (2-3, two singles, 1 run), Walker Spargo (1-3, double, 1 run), Aydan Bradley (1-3, triple, 1 run), Patrick Blee (1-1, double, HBP, BB), Blake Hartness (1-2, single, BB, 1 run), Zeke Pruitt (1-4, triple, 1 run) and Brody Crawford (1-4, triple, 1 run).
The Belmont Bandits won this game with an 8-4 score and secured the Gold Championship win. It was hard fought. It was well played. It was ours. This is everything about baseball you want these guys to experience at this high level of youth play. Bandit Pride.
May 21, 2017 - The weekend starts off slow, but ends on positive note
We had two games scheduled to kick off day one of The Battle of the Bats tournament this Saturday. We had Elite Baseball 9U and Lake Norman Dingers on the docket, and were on site bright and early for play. Unfortunately, that bright and early part seemed to not work in our favor. Our boys looked like they had been on a kool-aid and twinkie bender with 2 hours sleep during the first game. We were able to turn it on toward the end of that game, and pick it up a little during game two to close out the day.
First game up was against a team that we have played against several times this season. They have some talented kids, and always play hard. We ended up with a 13-6 win, but were not impressive in this game. We pitched several guys, and Blake Hartness, Brody Crawford and Zeke Pruitt all turned in solid innings from the mound. Dalton Skipper lead our hitting in this game, going 2-2 (two singles, 1 run). We also had some other contributors in Crawford (1-2, double, 1 run), Pruitt (1-1, triple, BB, 1 run), Hartness (1-2, double, 1 run) and Patrick Blee with three walks and scoring three runs. Our boys learned a great lesson about baseball momentum, psychology and gamesmanship during this game. We learned how to continually find some inspiration within the game when it is slowed down, and how to mentally reset yourself to try to keep the game fresh. We came away with a win, but it was hard fought and we did not have any outstanding moments to speak of; the coaches were hoping the boys were saving those type moments for later.
In game 2, we got to play a team we had never played before: the Lake Norman Dingers. Armed with a catchy name and a lot of effort, these boys came ready to play. They have some really good talent, and a good coaching staff as well. That made for a steady game on both sides for most of this game, and the Bandits struggled to put this team away. They have a memorable group that will continue to do well the more they play together. Patrick Blee and Zeke Pruitt pitched in this game, and both guys pitched great and gave up only one run versus this aggressive swinging group. We had very solid defense behind them, which always helps as well. Brody Crawford had two big catches that kept the solid bats of the Dingers at bay, including one HR saving catch where he had fully extended his arm over his head and running backwards toward the fence. Blee also had a big game filling in at SS, and was able to corral some tough plays into outs. Again, we did not have a litany of players lighting up the scoreboard. Bug Green lead our offense with a 2-3 effort including a smokeshot to the fence that turned into an inside the park HR. He also singled and scored two runs. Dalton Skipper continued a hot hitting day and went 1-2 and walked. Skipper and Coach Blee at first base did a great job of being aggressive on the bases when he legged out a bloop to right and turned what might have been a fly out into a double. Zeke Pruitt went 1-2 with a triple, walk and run scored. We had several guys with singles here and there, but didn't manage to put a lot of hits together consecutively too much. Still, a 9-1 win versus a game opponent was a satisfying feeling to go home with.
It was good to be 2-0 on the day, especially since we felt like we did not play our best baseball. This 2-0 record and our runs given up landed us the #2 seed in the tournament, which meant we would have to face a couple of tough teams on another early morning. Sunday will prove to be a test for the Bandits for sure, and we had to bring a better effort to be able to compete for the Gold Championship at stake.
May 19, 2017 - Top Gun's The Battle of the Bats
Baseball returns for the Bandits. We have games at Martha Rivers, Field #3 on Saturday at 9am and 12:30pm. It should be a fun weekend re-immersing ourselves back into the baseball world. There will be top competition this weekend, as it appears there are no local alternative organizations playing 9u ball at all. The other region in Concord has a smaller turnout, so this weekend is a spotlit tournament to be in.
Quick bio of the coaches as inspired by a facebook quote my wife showed me recently. She is as big a part of the Bandits as anyone, because she's been here from day one and we always self-reflect to make sure the path we are on is as positive for our team as can be. If only life were as easy as facebook memes and online inspirational diddys. But, this facebook post had to do with what should be expected out of 9-12 aged youth coaches. This is my forum to explain to our group and anyone else who wants to hear it, where we as a coaching staff stands.
My experience inside the fence may be a little different than what our fans/parents/supporters view is outside the fence. There is a lot of mutual respect most of us coaches have for each other in these games, though sometimes games do get heated. We walk a fine line of sticking up for our team and individual players at times, all the while trying to not point out an opponent's kid individually if possible. It's easy to paint youth travel ball coaches with a broad stroke since we have TV shows that glorify those who are entertaining through shock or humor. Plenty of coaches are Type A, demanding, aggressive guys by nature. There is nothing wrong with that....because this ain't backyard kickball, no matter the age. You are either in, or your out. Your Belmont Bandit coaches were brought up understanding baseball from watching local, college and Pro baseball during the 70s,80s and early 90s...and it was played a certain way during those times. We teach our kids a lot of the same stuff from then...and whether that's good or bad is a decision you can make own your own. One particular coach we have is more unusual than others, and works on some stuff that was done in from the 20s-60s that nobody does anymore. He believes it still works, and though it isn't what the local academy baseball coach will teach, it still has value. There are no internet drills you will find to practice these type approaches. So, we are the very definition of "old school", and we will continue doing what we do, how we do it. We know what type of league we participate in, don't ask the opponents to play worse so we can feel like we're better, and try to compete at every turn because this is a sport that people have signed up to play. There are thousands of rec leagues that emphasize juice boxes. That's great for most kids that play baseball. If that's something that's paramount to a parent, then they should pursue that type of thing. That's not what we are doing. We play travel baseball.
It has been brought to my attention of recent that there are many teams that are now "sponsored" by or affiliated with a company or organization. I was asked if we had ever been approached to partner with this type of deal. I would like to officially announce that we have partnered with a corporation: Spot-Bilt. We may, at times, from now on be referred as The 9u Belmont Bandits, as powered by Spot-Bilt athletic shoes. We receive the best deal I could broker; we receive no money from them, and they pay us no money to be an affiliate. George Brett's spirit lives within the 9u Belmont Bandits!!!
May 15, 2017 - The week & the work starts over again
We are set to get back at it full force practicing baseball this week. After a little more focus on soccer, and doing some fun off the field stuff - we look forward to the practice field today and Wednesday. After a little drama this past week in soccer, the team responded well to some adversity thrown their way a few weeks ago as well as last week. They have learned some life lessons from these experiences that will hopefully stay with them until adulthood. Our baseball team playing soccer has been fun for the kids overall this year, despite playing "up" in an older age group. This week is the final week of regular season for that, and so we will likely be done soon and back to focusing entirely on baseball before you know it.
Back to baseball: we have gotten a little slack on defense lately, so we will correct that and get ready to make a run this weekend. It looks like great weather all week so I anticipate good practices. We are set for at least two practices this week, and will focus on quality reps at multiple stations on Monday, and fine tune some things on Wednesday. On Monday and Wednesday, try to be at the field by 5:30. We will go a full two hours (at least) tonight, and try to do an hour and half max on Wednesday.
May 12, 2017 - 25 games in so far....
At this point in the season (over halfway), we are 25 games in and have a 19-6 record overall. It is not exactly where we wanted to be, and it shows we have plenty to work on in the coming months. Our early games in kid pitch ball were a little slow at first, but we have definitely hit the ball better and adjusted well in other areas recently.
It is always fun to gauge where you stand, and also interesting to look at it broken down in other terms. Below is how we've faired during each month we've played this season thus far:
MONTH WIN LOSS
February 2 2
March 6 3
April 8 0
May 3 1
Tonight, the boys will spend some quality bonding time together as they take their best behavior on the town in a limo, and go play arcade games. That will be followed by a spend the night party at Coach Crawford's house. It's a nice little break from baseball this week, and we will get back at it next week full force.
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