One of the area’s top youth baseball organizations is continuing its success in uncharted territory this year.
Seeking more competitive opponents, West Raleigh executive director of baseball Pete Gibson researched the organization’s options. He landed with PONY.
While they started the year not knowing what to expect from the new league, both an 11U and 12U team made it to their respective PONY World Series tournaments.
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“We have consistently played at a high level for several years,” Gibson said. “We consistently win the Eastern North Carolina division (of Cal Ripken) in each age group. I think the anomaly we had was not really knowing what to expect from PONY.”
The 11U team finished third in its PONY World Series tournament.
Of 17 West Raleigh All-Stars teams, six won their regional or zone titles this year, with several earning World Series berths in their respective leagues and age divisions.
Most of the players hail from Cary, Raleigh, Apex and Holly Springs, Gibson said.
Members of 10U and 12U teams met with West Raleigh alumni Friday to hear stories from coaches and players of past World Series teams.
“These kids had a chance to watch the guys that came through before and how they could be successful, and I think once you’re in a position to see somebody else be successful then you realize maybe I can do that, too,” said Tyler Highfill, coach of the 12U team.
The 10U team will travel to Ocala, Fla., and the 12U team will travel to Aberdeen, Md., this weekend to play in their respective Cal Ripken World Series.
“This is what it’s what it’s all about,” said Sam Perez, who plays for the 10U team. “It’s just the experience and it’s going. It’s not necessarily just about playing and winning or losing. It’s just about having fun, and that’s basically what all-stars is all about. It’s an amazing experience.”
The tournaments allow players to compete with the best teams from around the world. They have the opportunity to face players from countries such as Australia, the Dominican Republic and Japan. But it also serves as an opportunity for new life experiences.
The coaches encourage players to exchange shirts and hats with players from other states and countries.
Some looked forward to their first airplane flight, while others were excited to swim in a hotel pool.
“I think it’ll be really cool to meet Cal Ripken and play on the fields,” said Ryan Sholar, a shortstop for the 12U team. “I’ve seen games played there, and the fields are really nice.”
Several of the alumni on hand Friday were from the 2004 12U national championship and World Series runner-up team.
“It was really cool to get to know what their ride was,” Shuler said. “Hopefully we can have the same and even better ride than them. It’s kind of hard to top the ’04 team because they had the World Series, but hopefully we can go in there and take care of business.”