Sometimes the difference between a great summer and a World Series summer is simply momentum.
Just ask Janesville Youth Baseball’s 13U Babe Ruth Baseball tournament team.
The group narrowly missed out on advancing to the Babe Ruth World Series the past two years, finishing no worse than a semifinalist at the Ohio Valley Regional.
This summer was different. The locals not only made it to the OVR final, they cruised right through it, outscoring opponents 64-10 over five games.
Their reward is a trip to the World Series in Westfield, Massachusetts. The team and coaches flew out of Chicago today and will open pool play at Billy Bullens Field on Thursday.
“I think we’ve just played together more as a team this year,” team member Aidan Schenk said.
“Typically, we would get a little nervous and that would take over. But this year we didn’t. We just kept hitting and let the bats take over.
“We’ve just been on a hot run and have been having fun playing baseball.”
Members of the team along with Schenk are: Tayelin Sihabouth, Josh Knuth, Broden Jackson, Denver Hughes, Charlie Claas, Isaac Arellano, Tyler Horkan, Lucas Labuguen, Carson McCormick, Nick Gregg, Jaicy Campbell and Tre Miller. The team’s coaches are Rick Kyle, Kerry Michaels and Andrew Gregg.
“We’re all just best friends, and we just love playing baseball together,” said Nick Gregg, who added the team’s core of players has all been playing together for five summers, including three with Kyle as head coach. “This will be the first time for us (at the World Series). We’re pumped.”
The locals lost in the OVR championship game two years ago and in the semifinals a year ago.
Joining Janesville as World Series teams are: Fargo, North Dakota (Midwest Plains Region), Meridian, Mississippi (Southwest), Pittsfield, Massachusetts (New England), Centre County, Pennsylvania (Middle Atlantic), Greenville, South Carolina (Southeast), Spokane, Washington (Pacific Northwest), Hawaii Kai, Hawaii (Pacific Southwest), Calgary, Alberta, Canada (invited guest) and the host team from Westfield.
Janesville opens against Meridian on Thursday before taking on Calgary on Friday, Westfield on Saturday and Fargo on Sunday. Monday is an off day for Janesville, and the teams that advance out of the pools begin bracket play Tuesday.
“Our bats have just been rolling, and our pitching has been solid,” said Kyle, who will coach at his first World Series in 18 years of coaching youth baseball. “Everything is clicking at the right time.
“This team works hard, all 13 of them. They practice a lot. And there’s never been any problems; you tell them to do something and they just go do it. The chemistry with this group is just great. They’re always together. It makes it a lot easier.”
Schenk, Miller, Knuth and Hughes pitched Janesville through bracket play at the OVR tournament, which was held in Janesville. Sihabouth was the team’s leading hitter throughout that tournament, with multiple hits in every game.
But the team’s coaching staff Sunday lauded the total group effort.
“Every player had a moment at OVR where we could look at them and say, ‘We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you,’” Michaels said. “That’s pretty special.”
Now the team will face a couple new challenges.
First, Janesville expects a step up in competition. It faced the team from Eau Claire in both the state tournament championship game and OVR championship game.
Second, for some, the trip to Massachusetts might be the longest of their lives. Schenk said he would be traveling on an airplane for the first time in his life. How, then, does the team mix the competitiveness of the tournament with the trip of a lifetime?
“This is an opportunity that may never happen again,” Kyle said. “So you’ve got to go out there and enjoy the experience and have a lot of fun, but at the end of the day, we’re going out there to try and win it.”