PARIS — The coaches and players from the Tri-County 13U Babe Ruth baseball team hope to slide safely home, bringing with them the championship title from the youth World Series, which starts next weekend.
The team — composed of 11 children from 10 towns, Norway, Paris, Harrison, Waterford, Woodstock, Bethel, Bridgton, Rumford, Lovell and Oxford — will head to the Babe Ruth World Series, which begins on Saturday, Aug. 15, in Jamestown, N.Y.
Coach Tom Morton said Monday the youth organization estimates there will be more than 4,000 fans in the stands on opening day of the tournament.
This is the first time the team will play at such a competitive level, going up against the best teams across the country. But it isn’t a stranger to fierce competition. Tri-County, under the leadership of Morton with the help of fellow Coach Gary Williamson and later Coach Janek Luksza, was able to secure state championship titles four out of the past five years.
To clinch a spot at the World Series, Tri-County first had to win the New England Regional U13 Championships, playing in Winooski, Vt., on Wednesday, July 29. It beat powerhouse and defending champions Arlington from Massachusetts 2-1 in a close — and at times — nail-biting game.
“It was a really well-played game,” Morton said. “There were no errors (or) any walks issued from either team. We were able to execute a suicide squeeze in the fourth inning to get our second run. That proved to be the game winner right there.”
For those who aren’t die-hard baseball fans, a suicide squeeze is when the runner on third base takes off when the pitcher goes into motion, he explained. The trick is that the hitter needs to make contact with the ball — otherwise the catcher can easily tag the runner out.
“It’s a daredevil play, but if you get the right kids — a fast kid and a good bunter — you can execute it almost to perfection every time,” Morton said, adding that he had confidence in his players to successfully complete the tricky play.
There was another moment during that game which stood out to many on the team. The bases were loaded and the pressure was on 13-year-old pitcher Wyatt Williamson to not allow any runs. Wyatt — who’s been playing baseball for practically his entire life — said by phone he didn’t use any special pitches to accomplish this goal.
“I just try to pitch strikes so my team can make all the plays,” he said. “The whole team helped get the outs that inning. It was really tough, but we got it out that inning.”
Fourteen-year-old pitcher and shortstop Janek Luksza — who’s also been playing baseball pretty much since he could walk — said his favorite part of last week’s game was the trick play executed during the last inning.
“That was when we were one out away from winning,” he said, noting that it was a secret play the team has practiced before. “It was pretty fun.”
“They didn’t see it coming. (It) totally deflated their sails,” Morton said about the trick play on Arlington. “We knew we had our hands full, but we had improved significantly over the last year and picked up a couple of kids from Rumford, Waterford and Bridgton that really put us over the top.”
Coming off the natural high from winning regionals, everyone on the team — coaches included — can’t wait to take the field at the World Series next week.
“We’re really excited to go and try to do a good job against all the other teams,” Wyatt said. “It is probably going to be pretty good competition. We’re going to compete and try to do the best that we can.”
He’s not nervous heading into the biggest game in his baseball career thus far and said the team will continue to work hard and make improvements before heading to New York.
Janek — who wants to play ball professionally — had a hard time verbalizing all of the feelings he had about last week’s win and the chance to play in the World Series.
“I can’t even explain it — it was just crazy,” he said. “Going into regionals, I just kept telling myself we were going to win this thing and kept telling the team that.”
His positive attitude paid off and now Tri-County will compete against the toughest teams in the U.S.
Morton said his team will square off against one from Southern California, the New York state champions, another team from Tallahassee, Fla., and one from the Pacific Northwest. Even though this is going to be its biggest challenge to date, the coach doesn’t want people to underestimate his team from western rural Maine.
“It’s going to be pretty tough competition, but playing the way we play with no errors and walks, we’re going to be pretty tough to beat,” Morton said.