Janesville 15s look to flip switch in Tennessee
On Monday, its players spent the early moments of practice at Riverside Park attempting to make each other laugh in the middle of baseball interviews. They were so loose, head coach Tom Davey asked one of his assistants if he thought they'd get any sort of focus out of the team.
On Thursday, however, when Janesville opens play at the 15U Babe Ruth League World Series, Davey knows he'll need to ask no such question. The group has proven that it can get down to business between the foul lines, and it has been rewarded for its play by qualifying for the World Series three straight years.
"We like to have our fun, but when it's game time we like to get serious, too," said Clark Schamaling, one of 10 players who has been part of all three World Series teams. "So it's fun and serious."
Janesville opens pool play against Meridian, Mississippi, at 3 p.m. Thursday. Pool play runs through Monday, with the top three teams in each of the two pools advancing to bracket play beginning Tuesday.
"We like to mess around and have fun; that's kind of why we made this team for another year, because everyone enjoys it and has fun," Micah Overley said. "I think that's why we're such a good team, because we play well together and are friends outside the field, too."
As a 13U team that won an Ohio Valley Regional tournament on its home turf, Janesville took third place at the World Series. Last year at the 14U level, it finished fifth.
The Janesville team has built its World Series tradition on fundamentals.
The group doesn't necessarily have an overpowering ace pitcher like many of the teams in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, will have. And it isn't accustomed to mashing home runs.
Rather, the team typically relies on clutch two-strike and two-out hitting at the plate and sound decision-making in the field.
"We don't make the back-breaking mental mistakes, especially on defense. We make all the routine plays, and we make the extraordinary play on occasion," Davey said. "We know our situations. We know percentage baseball. It gives us a chance against teams that might have more talent than us. We can win any game we're in."
Eric Hughes, Dawson Draves, Dalton Madsen and Overley are typically Janesville's starting pitchers. Tegan Christiansen and Colin Hageman are the top relievers.
All six of those players have been a part of all three World Series teams. So, too, have Cody Logterman, Connor Clark and Jordan Curtis.
Kaleb Kinna, who had a clutch at-bat in the team's dramatic comeback in the OVR title game, is playing in his second World Series. Kobe Madsen, Conor Joyce and Cullen Peterson are recent additions to this year's roster to help offset a couple injuries.
"This is a great experience, and it's always fun representing Janesville in a World Series," Hughes said. "We just go down and play Janesville baseball. We play hard every game and try to play the best baseball we can play, all the time."
Meridian, Camas-Washougal (Washington) and the host Lawrenceburg team will be new foes to Janesville, while Bismarck (North Dakota) is an old World Series rival that fills out Janesville's pool.
Davey, who is assisted by Jim Kauss, Doug Madsen and TJ Bell, said the advantages of making a World Series three straight years is that players are used to some of the early distractions like the ceremony and skills competitions, as well as his players getting a chance to see different parts of the United States.
The players also know that this third World Series represents one last hurrah.
"Everyone's excited, and hopefully we can win it this year," Overley said. "I would almost say this is more exciting than it's ever been, because it's our third year and no team has done that.
"I feel like it's everyone's goal on this team to win. It's been a possibility both years, and going into it a third time, we should aim for it."