The University Bank 88s helped secure the Shawnee Co. Amateur Baseball Assn.'s Gopher League's regular-season title with a dramatic 4-3 win over the River Bandits on July 19.
Because the Outlaws forfeited both games of their doubleheader against the 88s two days later, the River Bandits, who were tied for first with the 88s going into their game, had to settle for second place in the league.
The 88s were down 3-1 going into the bottom of the seventh inning against the River Bandits, but scored three runs in the final frame to pull out the victory.
In the decisive inning, Tanner Kilmer hit a double to score Matthew Montez De Oca and Jack Bush, then scored the winning run when the River Bandits' catcher overthrew third base on Kilmer's steal attempt.
Bush had come close to tying the game earlier in the inning when he hit a ball off the top of the fence.
Ryan Scott pitched six innings for the 88s, and Michael McCabe came in to close out the game. Ryan Coulter also went 3-for-3.
On Friday, the 88s headed to Greenfield, Ind., to compete in the United States Specialty Sports Assn. national 12-U national tournament.
This has been a breakout season for the 88s, in their second year together as a traveling team.
"Last year as 11-year-olds, we played up against 12-year-olds the whole year and we lost probably 85 percent of our games," said Joe Jones, one of the 88s coaches. "This season our team improved dramatically."
Jones credited the team's work in the off season and personal instruction from one of their coaches, Wilson Kilmer, a former pitching coach at Kansas University who runs a private baseball clinic called Home Plate Baseball, for the team's turnaround.
"The key to our season was playing fall ball and the instructional leagues under Wilson, and we worked out all winter," Jones said. "We worked hard. We learned the fundamentals, and we performed."
The 88s have had success in several tournaments this season, including two two USSSA tournaments in Martin City, Mo.
The team also took fourth place in the USSSA state tournament.
Jones was cautiously optimistic about the team's chances in Indiana, as the team is missing some of its key players.
"We are going up there kind of thin," he said. "We lost our number one catcher to injury and two kids are leaving Monday to go on vacation. The players who remain are going to have to play quick baseball and throw strikes."
But whatever happened in the team's final tournament, it was a successful season for the 88s. Before going to Indiana, they were 14-2 in league play and 30-7 overall.
"The objective of this team is to make them understand baseball, have fun, and be high-school competitive by the time they get there, and we're definitely on track to do that," Jones said.