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Belmont Bandits 11U baseball team

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Cal Ripken Tournament in TN vs. national competition

May. 28, 2019

The Belmont Bandits played in the Cal Ripken Memorial Day tournament in Pigeon Forge, TN this past weekend and oh what a memorable time it was. It is always fun to measure up versus what the rest of the nation is doing, and see how they look on the field. We were able to play teams from OH, GA, TN and Missouri/Illinois (same team) during our play at the park. Reflection of our time spent in the mountains and introspection has a way of injecting humility and appreciation to our trip...even if we did not win the tournament. Our initial day's success snowballed our expectations into a sudden let down due to the pool/seeding process, but that does not take away the fun or memories that will never leave our minds. We went 3-1 on the weekend, but did not make the championship series. It was a success, it wasn't a success....just like life, the truth lies somewhere in between those grey lines. But for our play that began on Saturday, the only lines that mattered were the white ones that we played within, and we brought our best effort on day one without question.

We played in “pool D”…..a randomly grouped pool. There were four teams in each pool, and four total pools totaling sixteen teams in all. We ended up being in one of (and probably the) toughest pools of play…as we all beat up on each other during pool play. We had the Knoxville Stars (ranked #4 in TN), Mizuno- ATL team (ranked #5 in GA) and Miami Valley Prospects out of OH (we don’t know a rank, only that they came into this tournament 30-7). We were the fourth team in our pod of course.  We beat the Knoxville team, Knoxville beat ATL-Mizuno and then ATL-Mizuno beat our team….but we ended up being on the outside looking in once our initial three games were tallied. The team that beat us, ATL-Mizuno, were beaten by the eventual winner (Five Star DeMarini), and Knoxville played in the championship game and lost to that same Five Star DeMarini team. So, we didn’t make the final 8 grouping of championship series play for Monday. The Carolina Cannons, a local team we are familiar with, were also in a very tough bracket with the eventual winner (Five Star) playing in it. The two other pods gave much easier roads to the final 8 ranking, so we were a couple runs outside the championship play when all said and done, and at a record of 2-1 we had a consolation game to play on Monday morning. The blind seeding process isn’t totally fair, but just like in baseball you have to try to balance some bad luck with controlling the parts that we can take care of – and we didn’t win our third game when we needed it and that loss landed us out of the competition series in which we wanted to play. Thanks to all the families and extended families that took the trip with us, and showed their support. It was great to see so much red and black on display when we clashed with others wearing different colored war paint.

Saturday we faced the Knoxville Stars 11U team in our first game. They’re ranked #4 in the state of Tennessee in USSSA rankings, and play in big tournaments regularly. We had a complete team victory over them and did so while withstanding the antics that some teams (more so their fans) do in an effort to win a youth baseball game. Our boys learned a lot this weekend about rising above such opponent antics and beating a team, coaches and adult fans that would try any little thing to win a game. Our boys fought hard and clean, and did so with pride and class. When you’re drowning though, you grab onto anything you can find - I guess. It just so happened that the important thing that was happening - the game itself - was really a great one. Our early lead was diminished, but the Bandits were able to hold on to victory versus a great ball club. Their play is stellar, and we were very proud of our efforts on the field as well because that play proved to be the reason why we ended up with the win and retained the pride of being a clean competitor. We won this game 6-5 in impressive, controlling fashion.

Game two on Saturday was versus a team out of Troy, OH – Miami Valley Prospects, 11u. They have a great reputation and organization, as seen here:  https://miamivalleyprospects.website.siplay.com . We played very well in this game, and ended up cruising to a big 20-5 win. We were able to pitch a lot of guys this weekend, including many guys that have not pitched a whole lot in ballgames this year. All the pitching was really good, and most impressively was done against the best group of offensive competition we have faced this year. We left Saturday feeling pretty good at 2-0, but still had to face the #5 ranked 11u team in the state of Georgia on Sunday. That’s what we signed up for, so we showed up on Sunday to play our one and only game.

We had the third and final team in our pool to compete against on Sunday, Mizuno-ATL. We lost this game 13-5 to a superb team. They are very well coached and their players are super talented. We saw the best 11u pitcher I’ve ever seen….a hard throwing lefty with perfect control and knowledge of how to pitch. The game was closer than the 13-5 score for the first few innings, but mid-way through the game, we let the score get out of hand a little bit. There is no shame in it – because they belted HRs and put the ball in play enough that our defense and pitching eventually just gave in. We certainly didn’t play near our best but getting beaten by teams like that is nothing to be ashamed about.

On Monday we played our 8am consolation game versus the Hitmen – Bovinett out of Saint Louis. As a Cardinals fan, I was happy to play against a team from the IL/MO area. One of their coaches told us that they have the son of the great catcher from the SL Cardinals, Yadier Molina, that typically plays with them. He wasn’t at this particular tournament with them this weekend, but still a fun fact. We did not play well at all, and despite trying to avoid a let down since we barely missed the competition series we most certainly played terribly in this game. We did win the game 7-6, and kept control the entire second half of the game but it was a comedy of errors in all phases of the game for the most part. I would have liked to have seen us finish up strong and play the way we normally do, but 8am games for 11 year olds on vacation provide some twists in the road that would make Tennessee mountain land roads envious. We did wind up winning our last game, and ended the weekend 3-1 overall.

The #10 ranked team in the nation, Five Star DeMarini, plays out of the greater Jacksonville, FL area. This team is phenomenal and won our tournament by beating the Knoxville Stars crowd that we defeated on day one of the tournament. So, that #10 national team proved how good they are by beating the team that beat us in the semi-finals (Mizuno-ATL) by a score of 9-4, as well as beating the Knoxville team in the championship game by a score of 11-8. We didn’t get to see Five Star on the field, but if they beat both Knoxville and Mizuno-ATL that means their #10 national ranking is justified for sure.

So, this weekend we faced teams out of all over the nation, and from big metro areas and large multi-county suburban grouped teams. We normally see teams on the weekends comprised of players that live within an hour of each other, and they all come together and play on the same team against our small town boys. But, our Shipyard tournament, this event and upcoming like events down in Savannah and Top Gun summer nationals at Myrtle Beach provide something a little different than the local teams normally do. This is who we competed on the field against this Memorial Day weekend:

-Knoxville Stars;  200,000 population. They are listed as being out of Lenoir City, TN…but just like the Mizuno-ATL team, when you pull from an area that may be an hour or two away from another player – you centralize your location team name.

-Miami Valley; This group is located between Columbus and Cincinnati….and based out of Troy, OH which has over 25,000 population plus the neighboring towns, cities and counties that help supply their local talent to this 11u team we played.

-Mizuno-ATL; Atlanta, GA has a 500,000 population. This team is technically out of Mableton, GA….but when you have players from 9 different town/cities that will play on 8 different HS teams out of your 11 players on the roster, you know the competition to just be on that team is fierce, and the product of their play has to remain stellar to continue to hold your spot. Google where Rock Mart, Silver Creek and Cedartown, GA are in relation to Mableton, GA to get an idea of the wide area feeding this group.... I can assure you that you wouldn't want to drive that far into work every day.

-Hitmen (Bovinett); St Louis; 325,000 population. Though this group is listed as being out of Caseyville, IL, their coaches told us a couple of times they’re out of the greater Saint Louis area. Last year’s Perfect Game record (as 10u) was 5-4-1 and they had kids out of 9 different town/cities, including two states.

I’ve said this before, and I want to reiterate it because it is important to know the type of position your kids are put in on while playing for this team… it is a great but also tough one. They are asked to compete like no other group of small town kids around here has done before. There are often major yarns spun and usually outright lies told about what some other team from two or twenty years ago did in and around our area. But, there have been no Belmont, or any team from Gaston County that I know about in the last fifty years, to go play, compete and win against national competition like this before. There definitely hasn’t been a small town team with kids who live within a few square miles of each other do it. We don’t have one stud player on our team from Kings Mountain or some other local region, much less Winston Salem. We go and compete against teams that pick and choose their players from hundreds of kids that try out to be on those teams, and that are made up of players that live hundreds of miles apart.  It’s a privilege to be in this position, and our coaching staff does not take it lightly. The main point is….depending on if these kids are interested in continuing to play, and/or good enough to keep playing – they’re all set to go to the same HS and are competing against groups playing together now that are comprised of multi county, state and regional areas where little to none of the kids will continue to play together. That is something special. We do it during baseball season, too. We don’t do year-round pitching and hitting lessons. We have done lessons, by our coaches or former players, for about a month or two and in groups of 2-4 right before the season. Why do we do groups of 2-4? Because you get to hear the same thing two or three times, and only have to perform the movement 1/3 or 1/ 4 of the time while seeing it 2-3 times done up close by others. We don’t throw baseball year round;  we practice and play baseball from mid to late January through July. We have football, basketball, soccer players as well as swimmers and motocross riders on our team that do those things during the times you should be participating in them. It’s an old school and possibly joint and tendon-saving approach…we like to watch your player get better during the baseball season. Throwing the equivalent to two seasons before a baseball year ever starts in pitching lessons will probably make you look like the best pitcher on the team in February….so enjoy that while it’s here. Because in May-July it will eventually catch up to you. If you have thrown 8-9 months out of the year for three or four years to make sure you are amongst the best pitchers around, that Travel ball coach isn't the problem. Although we saw plenty of facility guys this weekend, we also saw a lot of very talented players. Let’s just hope for their sake that their parents find the right balance of work / rest / other interests that will promote longevity to keep them playing baseball. 3 and 1 versus what we saw this weekend ain’t too bad doing it the way we do it.




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