BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — For the 11 boys on the 11U Junior Generals baseball team, the fourth time was a charm.
On June 21, the team won the state tournament in Dayton – after three years of returning home without the trophy.
“The boys accomplished something that’s a once-in-a-lifetime. It’s something they will carry with them and talk about and remember,” said Mike Black, who coached the team along with Matt Roth, Aaron Rouser and Andy Oess.
“We’ve been trying to do this for four years. It’s rare to accomplish something like this because everything has to come together,” Black said.
The boys lost their second game, 6-5, in pool play, but won the other six games, including the quarterfinal against Upper Arlington, 5-1; the semifinal against Gem City, 10-2; and the championship game against Springfield, 13-3. In all, the team scored 72 runs in seven games.
“I thought all the coaches were really inspiring and made us work harder,” said Black’s son, Will. He pointed out that in the championship game, the Generals were down 0-2 at the start. Instead of getting down, they started in on some chants, like, “I’m fired up! You fired up?”
“We can’t think like we’re going to lose. We got this, we can win. We didn’t get down on ourselves. If someone got down, we pumped them up,” Will said.
During the championship game, the score was 2-2 and Will hit a two-run double over the leftfielder’s head to give the Generals a 4-2 lead.
“When we were down on the score, we kept fighting. If they put in a few runs, we fought hard,” said Kaden Rouser, who credited dedication to practice and the desire to never give up as the reasons behind the win.
Practicing at Blue Creek fields last week, the boys shared some of the highlights of the tournament.
“I hit my first home run ever,” said Drew Bellian, who joined the team this year after playing for the rec league on the white team. “I also had a double play.”
“Drew’s home run made us super-pumped,” said Kaden Rouser, who gave up just one run in six innings during the final game. He also plays shortstop and caught a line drive in that same match-up.
Aiden Oess had two triples in the championship game.
Thomas Woycik pitched nine strikeouts in the semifinal and threw a complete game using what he calls a heater – a fastball that goes up to 60 mph.
“He cooks,” agreed Mike Black.
Nathan Trunck closed out the championship game and only allowed two hits in four innings.
The boys named a few other “ESPN moments,” including Luke Spenthoff’s sprint from center to catch a ball in right field.
“Everyone was so excited … we all had so much energy,” Luke said.
Each of the 11 boys has his own specialty, but seven are pitchers, and the coaches used each one of them, said Black.
Matt Roth, a family practice and sports medicine physician, is the team doctor. He keeps the stats and manages the pitch count, which ranges from 40 to 60 throws. He makes sure that the boys don’t overdo it.
“Knowing what’s normal-sore and what’s bad-sore is helpful,” Roth said.
Normally, the state tournament would host 22 teams, but this year it was just 15. The competition, however, was no less fierce. Many of the teams are composed of players pulled from a wide radius, but the Generals only have team members from the Anthony Wayne area.
“The boys represent the AW community so well. They battled a lot of obstacles and adversity and overcame with amazing effort and attitude by each one of them,” Black said.
Most of the boys first began playing together on an 8U team – which was knocked out in the first round of the state tournament. Last fall, the team added Drew Bellian and Jake Craig. Drew said he already knew everyone on the team, so the transition was easy.
Every member plays other sports, but they began practicing indoors during the fall and were just getting ready for outdoor play when the coronavirus pandemic shut down practices.
Coach Rouser sent the team members some exercises to do at home to get ready: strength training, fundamentals and videos to watch on different plays. Aiden Oess said he practiced pitching to his dad and neighbors on a mound that’s installed in his back yard. Kaden Rouser practiced hitting. Nathan Trunck used green bands for stretching and keeping his arm loose. Nate Yokum put his 35-pound mini labradoodle Ruby into a backpack and carried her around for an hour a day. Did she like it? Not really, he said.
By the time the team was allowed to practice, they were ready.
“Our first practice was one of the best. They were so sharp and raring to go,” Black said.
“They’re good kids and eager to learn,” Rouser added. “Every kid contributed in some part. The thing that most impressed me was the hitting.”
The state win was a payoff for each one of the boys – who all plan to continue playing baseball through the high school level at least.
“I’m already thinking I’ll be the first-round pick in the draft,” said Thomas Woycik, pointing to his Detroit Tigers shirt.