The Lawrence Lightning silenced critics and had a break-out season this year, placing in many tournaments and having the opportunity to play for the U.S. Specialty Sports Assn. 11-U AA World Series crown.
The Lightning, a Douglas County Amateur Baseball Assn. 12-U team, had a successful season in DCABA play but found incredible success in the USSSA 11-U AA tournaments.
"Our success is attributed to a combination of things," Lightning coach Tom Leggins said. "The kids were comfortable with assuming the roles that we gave them and doing their part to come together as a team."
Even though the team name has existed in Lawrence before, this year is the first the players on the current version of the Lightning have played together. The new roster formed from a combination of kids who had played in DCABA before. Some of the kids came from the All-Star team and had played together in the fall league at Sport2Sport.
"There were no problems jelling as a team, which was a pleasant surprise," Leggins said. "Not many of the kids had played a whole lot of outfield, but we got out to a shocking 3-0 start on the season."
Lightning players weren't surprised by the success.
"Everybody knows their role," Lightning player Levi Baker said. "We work really well together and played together well as a result."
Coming into the season, Leggins and the other coaches, Steve Leary and James Folko, worked to find the positions each kid would play well.
"Most of the kids had played numerous positions, so we used the league games to try the various positions, and on the weekends we used a set tournament schedule," Leggins said.
Leggins attributes the rotation of players during league games in playing a large role in the success the team has experienced this year. He said even though the DCABA games provided practice for weekend tournaments, the players kept their sights on winning every game they played.
Going into the season, Leggins planned to compete in tournaments two weeks apart because of the boys' DCABA schedule. But rainouts complicated things and the team went through a stretch of four straight DCABA games following a weekend tournament.
"I think the coaches were more tired than the kids," he said.
Leggins said the weekly schedule of practicing, playing in DCABA and the tournaments has helped the team overcome the challenges of being in its first year and led to the success the Lightning players are having.
DCABA games provided the Lightning with the opportunity to get experience as a team. During DCABA play, the team was put in different situations, which helped when it came time for tournaments.
"We had a close game, and pitching stepped up to preserve our lead," Leggins said. "Another time against the Black Sox, playing different positions caused us to fall behind, but the team overcame their errors and made the plays to win."
The Lightning is not a very big team, so they play a lot of small ball.
"We take advantage of stealing bases and bunting when runners are at second and third," Leggins said. "The last few weeks things are really clicking and they are understanding defense and pitching, to help in running the bases successfully."
Practice has certainly paid off for the Lightning, which posted an 11-3 record in DCABA and finished second in the DCABA postseason tournament.
The Lightning placed third in two tournaments in Lenexa. A first-place finish at a third Lenexa tournament gave the team its berth in the state tournament, where they placed second out of 28 teams. A first-place finish at a mid-June tournament in Basehor qualified them for the USSSA Baseball World Series.
"Our win-loss record is tremendous," Leggins said. "Each of them has improved, not one single kid for any significant progress over the other. We have fun playing together, and the winning attitude is contagious."
As the year progressed the attitude is the biggest change Leggins has seen.
"They are more in tune and confident with their abilities," he said.
Despite all the play, the Lightning have not experienced burnout.
"Moving the kids around has kept them involved in the game," Leggins said. "It has helped to improve their game, and everyone is always ready because they might have to switch positions."
The Lightning headed into the USSSA World Series with tons of confidence after a surprising second-place finish at state.
"We weren't even supposed to be there, and then we got second in state," Lightning Ryan Leary said.
The confidence of their success made the Lightning a dangerous team going into the World Series.
"The kids are not afraid of anyone because they know they have a chance with every game," Leggins said. "We can play with any team and go up there, have fun and play hard."
On July 11 the Lightning played in the USSSA 11-U AA World Series in Council Bluffs, Iowa and began three games of pool play.
In their first game the Lightning fell to the Players North 7-15. Then the Kearney Little Ceasars pounded the team 11-1. The Lightning showed their resilience to come back and take game three verse the Council Bluffs Lynx 9-3.
"Our defence didn't perform up to our normal standards in the first two games of pool play," Leggins said.
In the single elimination bracket, the Lightning lost a close game to the Millard Red Heat 3-1 and was eliminated from the tournament.
"In our single elimination game, we pitched and played defense, but couldn't push across enough runs to win," Leggins said.
The Lightning ended the week going 1-3, but Leggins said the boys had a good time.
For the year the team finished the season with a 31-12 record, which exceeded even their own pre-season goals.
Pace Leggins said it was awesome to play for the Lightning because he has never been on a team that was so successful.
Devin Garcia said the team's philosophy is simple: stay confident, no pressure and don't give up until the end of the game.
These ideas worked to lead the Lightning to an unexpectedly successful season.
Everyone on the team said the season was "awesome."
"The boys like getting the hardware at the end of the tournaments," Leggins said. "When they lose, they take it in stride and that makes me so proud of them."
The Lightning set out at the beginning of the season to finish five games above .500, but the team's results far exceeded those early expectations and make everyone excited about next year's possibilities.