The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY)
Clifton Park heads west for World Series return
CLIFTON PARK — A lot can change in two years for the Clifton Park Knights who will represent the Middle Atlantic Region for the second time in two years as the locals will compete in the 14-year-old Babe Ruth Baseball World Series at Moses Lake, Washington.
The Knights are bigger, older and more experienced after qualifying for the Cal Ripken Baseball Major/ 70 World Series in Aberdeen, Md. two years ago, the gem of the organi- zation’s small field program.
Now they take their talents to the regulation baseball diamond on the left coast.
“I think we have learned from our past mistakes regarding our pitching,” Clifton Park manager Tom Huerter said. “We’re going to utilize all of our pitchers.
“We are going to make sure that we get through pool play without having to throw someone six or seven innings and 80 to 100 pitches,” Huerter said. “We are going to manage
that. That’s going to be important for us.”
The Knights stable of arms include Ian Anderson, Michael Jeffers, Kevin Huerter, Michael Spulnick, Johnny Cady and Kurt Forsell who frustrated teams from throughout the Eastern seaboard during the Middle Atlantic Regional hosted by Clifton Park a week ago, allowing just three runs in six games.
“We are going to use those same six kids and try to manage four games over five days,” Huerter said. “We’re in as good of a position as we have ever been with our pitching staff and that’s without Nik Malachowski who has been injured all year and would be one of best pitchers. The depth of our team, from a pitching standpoint, is still strength of this team.”
Becoming only the second Clifton Park Baseball squads to advance to a World Series berth in 2012, the Knights were treated like rock stars in Aberdeen, Md., showered with free equipment, and embraced by the media and the tournament host, Cal Ripken Jr.
It was a wide-eyed vacation for the 12- year- olds, now this second act is more of a business trip.
“In Aberdeen, each player was with their families in a hotel room overlooking the fields and was a great set-up, but there is a different level of excitement and a different approach this time,” Huerter said. “We can see it with the kids, I think it’s a maturity because they’ve been to a World Series and been in big games, hopefully is a huge plus for them.”
The Knights will adjust to staying with host families, a tradition within the Babe Ruth Baseball League organization and have a challenging bracket.
“Right out of the gate we play (Bryant, AR) that won the World Series in Washington last year,” Huerter said. “I like the mindset, I like the position that this team is in right now. They are playing confident, but they know if they don’t play well, they’ll lose and hopefully they just play well.
“They are staying with host families, they have a teammate as a roommate and they are curious,” Huerter said. “That aspect, in a good way, has taken the pressure off the game and put a little focus on what the living arrangements are going to be.”
The Knights have also adjusted to playing on the regulation baseball diamond, moving up from their success on the 50-foot pitcher’s mound and 70foot base paths as a 12year-old squad.
“As a coach you can’t expect a kid to step up to the plate with a man on first and second, down by three and expect him to tie the game,” Huerter said. “You’re hoping for two more hits, or three more hits or a walk, a hit batsman, something.
“I think they are pretty steady because of the game on the large field where they know they are a good team defensively, we don’t give up too many runs, so if they don’t score runs in an inning they handle that well,” Huerter said. “When they do score runs, three or four in an inning, they understand that it could be the knock- out punch because how well they play defense and how good our pitching has been.”
Clifton Park went 4-0 in the Mid-Atlantic Regional pool play, earned a bye to the semifinal and captured the final giving up just three runs in six games.
“What I’m hoping we’re rested from the long trip on Friday, ready to play against a very good team and if we can get that first game that will set us up well because they won the World Series last year,” Huerter said. “You have to think they are going to be in the thick of things when pool play gets over with.
“We’ve got two games against teams that qualified for the World Series, and then we play the host team,” Huerter said. “If we are 2- 0 when we face the host team, then you have to like our chances because we’ve beaten two very good teams.”
While the Knights cruised to their second World Series berth, Huerter couldn’t guarantee a World Series title.
“With 14-year-old baseball, if our bats go to sleep or we start to kick it around we could easily lose to any team,” Huerter said. “If we play well and get beat by another team, I have no problem with that. If we go out there and don’t play well, they don’t play to their potential that would be the only disappointment.”