It's been quite an eventful and exciting summer for Alpena Huron Shores Babe Ruth baseball.
Two weeks ago, four Alpena teams traveled to the Cal Ripken state tournament in Niles and two of them- the 9U and 11U teams- came home with state championships.
The two teams will try to bring home some more hardware next week when they compete in the Cal Ripken Ohio Valley Regionals starting Wednesday. The 9U team will complete in Connersville, Ind. and the 11U team will compete in Galesburg, Ill.
"Obviously it's an honor. I'm really proud of the kids and how they performed," 11U head coach Chris Limback said. "We get to the represent the state of Michigan."
Limback is feeling good about his team's chances and for good reason. On the mound, Aidan Goike had a stellar state tournament for Alpena. He threw a no-hitter in the team's opening pool play win over Clinton Valley, fanning 16 batters in six innings. In the championship game two days later, Goike struck out seven and allowed three hits as Alpena topped Clinton Valley again, 12-2. In 10 innings, he has 23 strikeouts and a 0.80 ERA.
"Aidan is a very talented pitcher," Limback said. "When he comes out and throws like he can, it really helps our team."
What: Ohio Valley Regionals of Cal Ripken Baseball Tournament
Where: Alpena's 9U team will compete in Connersville, Ind., Alpena's 11U team will compete in Galesburg, Ill.
When: Play begins on Thursday and ends Sunday, Teams will have icebreaker events on Wednesday.
Offensively, Alpena has shown a knack for scoring runs in bunches. The team jumped out to a 6-2 lead in the championship game and cruised from there. Against Brandywine, Alpena clung to a 6-4 lead after 5 innings, but put the game away in the bottom half of the fifth inning and came away with an 11-5 win.
Many of the team's players came up with hits at key times. Chris DeRocher leads the team with a .909 batting average with 10 hits in 11 at-bats. As a team Alpena is hitting .394 and Kyle VanDusen, Owen Limback, Eli Winter, Anthony Berg and Jordan Schultz were among those who came up with big hits at the right time and helped the team outscore its opponents 38-7.
"I'm really proud of the growth that we had. Even against Clinton Valley, we came back (from a 2-0 deficit) and put runs on the board. We were able to handle their knockout blow," Limback said.
Alpena's 9U team developed a knack for scoring runs in bunches as well. Alpena stormed its way to a championship, outscoring five opponents 44-9. Alpena's entire lineup contributed key hits at different times and the team is hoping to surprise some of its opponents like it did at the state tournament.
"We don't know what to expect. We'll be facing some teams that play ball all year round," 9U coach Dave Nowak said. "But we went down to the state tournament and they (other teams) were like, 'Where did these guys come from?'"
The team also showed an ability to rally when it counted most. Playing against Howard Township in the title game, Alpena struggled against Howard's ace pitcher to start the game and fell behind 2-1. A two-run fourth inning rally and a couple of game-saving catches eventually gave Alpena a 3-2 win.
In a pool play game against Huron Valley, Alpena trailed by deficits of 3-0 and 4-2 before rallying back with 10 runs in the fourth and fifth innings to put the game away.
Like the 11U team, pitching has been a key part of the 9U team's success. Ryan Lee and Keegan Hahn shared most of the pitching duties during the state tournament, but several other players like Noah Marquardt and Ben Nowak also time on the mound.
Nowak said his team had a good week of practice and even chose to practice for an extra hour on Thursday even when the coaches told them they could take a break. Nowak is hoping his team's knack for big hits and good base running will lead to some wins.
"Base running is probably the strongest part of our team. We have some unbelievably fast kids," Nowak said. "Every other team had to adjust to our style of play, so we're hoping to take that with us."
The competing 9U teams will have an icebreaker on Wednesday and will get to watch a Richmond (Ind.) River Rats game. Each team will play three pool play games, which begin Thursday, before the tournament turns to single elimination format. To win the entire regional, a team will have to win eight games.
Since their state championship wins two weeks ago, both teams have seen a great amount of support from the community to help pay for some of the trip expenses-the 9U team will travel nearly 500 miles and the 11U team will travel nearly 600 miles. To help pay for some of the expenses, a celebrity softball game was held as a fundraiser along with other family activities at the AHSBR Complex last Sunday. Both teams also sold refreshments at Alpena Mall and Culligan Plaza last Saturday and held a karaoke contest and Mountain Bar and Grill in Black River yesterday.
"It's amazing the support the community has given both teams," Limback said.
James Andersen can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.