Archive for Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Lightning on a run to nationals

3 DCABA teams win state, go to Memphis for NBC tournament

July 21, 2004

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It took a little time for the Douglas County Amateur Baseball Assn. 9-U select Lightning team to get acquainted at the NBC State tournament at Pittsburg.

But, after a trip through the losers' bracket, the Lightning seized the championship of the NBC Hap Dumont 9-U state tournament and a berth to the NBC national tournament.

Jim Taylor also fielded the Black Sox, another 9-U team representing DCABA. This team took fifth place in the tournament, and will join Mike Willoughby's Lightning team at the national tournament that begins Friday.

David Eddy's 8-U Select team also won their age group's berth to the national tournament later this month in Memphis.

The Lightning, after losing the opening round game to the Wichita Sluggers, won eight games in a row and ended up where they started -- playing the Sluggers. They had to play a tripleheader -- more than six hours of baseball -- on their final day of play.

The Lightning beat the Topeka Orioles en route to meeting up with the Sluggers for the championship game. Because the Sluggers had gone through the double elimination tournament unbeaten, the Lightning had to beat the Sluggers twice July 13 to win the championship.

The first of the two championship games mirrored the closely played battle that the first-round game was. The Lightning beat the Sluggers, 9-7, and went on to dominate the next game, winning 7-3.

Lightning head coach Mike Willoughby said the fact that the players were all talented athletes for their age helped them in making the necessary adjustments and having the stamina to win.

"We had some pretty competitive ball players," said Stan Skwarlo, whose son, Stan, plays on the Lightning.

The elder Skwarlo said the level of competition was not hard for the players, who all came from teams in the DCABA 9-U league, to adjust to.

However, being able to advance on dropped third strikes and being allowed to steal were two rules that differed from what the players had been accustomed to playing in DCABA league play.

"The pitchers were not used to holding runners on base," Taylor said.

Making the adjustment to playing with players that they had been competing against throughout the season was not as challenging as expected.

"The boys picked things up quickly," Willoughby said.

After the first-round loss, Willoughby said the Lightning used extra time between games to prepare for the next game and, as a result, played more like a team.

"We practiced on Sunday morning so we didn't get to go swimming," Willoughby said, adding that the extra effort paid off.

"It was amazing," Willoughby said. "I thought we'd wear out, but we didn't."

Willoughby said the parents helped out by providing the players with plenty of cold water and towels to keep them hydrated and cool.

Trying to keep players cool didn't stop their hot streak. Willoughby said you couldn't name an MVP because every player hit and played their positions well.

"If you put together the distance of Matt Baker's hits it would probably have been like 10,000 feet," Willoughby said.

Drew Green caught most of the games, which was a challenge in the intense heat and adapting to catching the third strike.

Willoughby hopes the team continues to develop, especially in preparation for the stiff competition against teams that have advantages over Kansas teams, such as being able to play all year long.

He said players getting accustomed to other positions will be another issue players will have to get used to.

"With so many talented players, we have some players who usually play third that have to play in the outfield, or some pitchers who didn't get to play where they would have liked," Willoughby said. "But they all learn quickly."

He said their ability to adapt is one of the reasons they were successful.

"They know their positions and what the other positions do in situations," Willoughby said.

Skwarlo, who is also head coach for the DCABA 9-U Pirates, said that many of the players on the Select teams play different sports together. He said many of the boys play basketball, soccer and other sports with and against each other throughout the year.

"It was fun watching the select teams interact with each other," Skwarlo said. "Both groups got to be friends off the field. They were cheering for each other throughout"

The Black Sox went 2-2 in the tournament, also losing the first game in the tournament. They went on a small run before losing to the Topeka Cathawks in a game that Taylor said was dictated by debatable calls.

"The umpires admitted to me after the game that they had blown a few calls," Taylor said.

Taylor said he hoped to work on situation plays with his players in the time they have before the tournament. Base running was another weak spot they plan to improve upon through practice.

Some players' DCABA teams were still not finished with league tournament play, so they came back after the state tournament ended Tuesday night and played in the finals with their teams.

Four of the players from the Pirates played the state tournament in Pittsburg. Josh Saathoff, Miles Stevens and Joey Bateman played for Jim Taylor's team that took fifth place in the tournament. the younger Skwarlo played for Mike Willoughby's Select team.

The four players rejoined their team for the third-place game July 16 against the Sharks. In the 9-U tournament championship game between the Lancers and Mustangs, 12 players played on the select teams in the tournament.

The elder Swarlo said that the competition wasn't the most appealing aspect to the players, but it was playing teams from throughout the Midwest.

The Lightning played in a tournament in Wellsville last weekend. Both the Lightning and the Black Sox will have the opportunity to see how they match up against teams from across the country in the NBC national tournament later this month.

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