Look in the dugout of the Willamette Valley Babe Ruth League’s 12-and-under All-Star team and you’ll find steel baseball equipment racks decorated with each player’s number and the WV team logo above the letters RTA.
The three letters signify the ultimate goal for this team: a trip to the Cal Ripken 12U World Series in Aberdeen, Md. RTA refers to the team’s motto: Road To Aberdeen. Head coach Mitchell Morgan elaborated on this mission on Friday, the last practice day before the team headed out for Centralia, Wash. for the Pacific Northwest Regional Tournament.
“For us, from day one it’s been the road to Aberdeen,” Morgan said. “We told them we are not here to have a neat experience with regionals. We’re there to win and to advance to the World Series. They are there to advance to Maryland. They put in the hard work all week and seem pretty determined.”
In order to reach Aberdeen, the 12U team will need to win the regional title and earn a bid to the World Series. Today, Willamette Valley 12U takes the next step on that road. The team opens pool play against Wyoming in a 9 a.m. game at the Lewis County Sports Complex Borst Park.
The tournament is made up of eight teams with four teams in two divisions, the American and National divisions. Willamette Valley joins Wyoming, Northern Washington and Black Hills, Wash., the host team. The teams in the National Division are Northern Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Southern Washington. The three teams with the best records in each division advances to Thursday’s single-elimination round. The championship game is played on Friday. The championship winner moves on to play in the World Series on Aug. 9-18.
Morgan said his team is in the position to defend Southern Oregon’s two-year reign as the regional tournament champion. He said last year the team from Roseburg won the tournament and the year before it was the Willamette Valley team that won. Of his 11 players, seven reached the 10U World Series. “Those other players who haven’t been there, they’re hungry for it,” he said. “They want it just as much as everybody else does.”
The group will take the field without outfielder Noah Francis, who broke his left wrist during practice a week ago. “he’s one of the bigger, stronger kids on the team that hit with power. He hit two home runs during the state tournament, so we’ll miss his bat in the lineup for sure.”
“He’s one of the guys…If anything, it’s great motivation. We told them that Noah can’t be on the field so we all have to pick up the slack.”
Morgan and his coaches had to scramble to replace Francis. They’ve added Dax Bennett to the team.
The rest of the roster includes: Micah Burke (team leader with five home runs, .291 batting average); Beau Burnett (.340 BA); D.J. Stedman (.406 BA); Patrick Herbert (team leader with .615 BA); Calin Morgan (.349 BA); Trevor Groves (.486 BA); Samuel Lerch (team leader with 32 runs batted in, .459 BA); Stephen Parmenter (.455 BA); Trevor Duran (team leader with 13 stolen bases, .429 BA), and Dylan Hansen (second on the team with a .533 BA). The assistant coaches on the team are Randy Groves and Kelly Stedman.
For Morgan, it’s his first regional tournament as a coach. He was a parent and fan when his son played in the tournament as a 10U team member. “It’s good,” he said. “It’s a different stress and pressure. When you have an injured kid and you’re scrambling to get the paperwork in to add a player to the roster, you’ve got to deal with a lot more than getting your kid to practice or a game.”