Coach Rick Pate said his West Raleigh Blue team came to practice on June 1 with one goal in mind: going to Aberdeen, Md.
The Cal Ripken 12U group also knew it had to work fast since its first tournament was only five days later. They used the tournament to work on the little things that would eventually help them advance to the Cal Ripken World Series championship. They won the Southeast District but ultimately fell to Mexico in the final round of the U.S. bracket at the beginning of the month.
But what led up to the championship appearance wasn’t easy. West Raleigh was down, 8-1, entering the final inning and came back to win, 9-8, before moving onto the North Carolina and Virginia state tournaments. Then, the team opened the Cal Ripken Districts games.
“Once Distict play started,” Pate said, “the boys got off to a great start but seemed to lose a little focus because the wins came easy. That lack of focus almost derailed their World Series dreams before they got started.”
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West Raleigh lost a double-elimination game but won the next contest, advancing to the North Carolina state tourney.
“That’s where the boys really got focused and played some unbelievable baseball,” Pate said.
Payton Bloom, Payton Green, Xander Lietz, Blake McCain and Timothy Pate led an offense that hit more than a dozen home runs in the state championship in North Carolina. West Raleigh also got great pitching from Green, Pate, Zach Hurand – the Southeast MVP – Garrett Moffett and Sam Perez as it made its way to the Southeast Region Tournament, hitting another 10 homers, Rick Pate said.
He added his team was a mere strike away from elimination in the regional round against a team from Madison, Fla. The score was tied, 3-3, going into the final frame, and West Raleigh wound up winning, 5-3, on a walk-off hit by McCain.
West Raleigh defeated a second Florida team to represent the Southeast Region in the World Series.
“The players were treated like pro athletes from the time we got there (Aberdeen),” Rick Pate said. “Cal Ripken flew the team to Baltimore, where a coach bus awaited to carry the boys to Under Armour for uniforms, helmets, hats, batting gloves and cleats. That got the boys pumped up to play some baseball.”
West Raleigh, playing as Southeast, defeated the Pacific Southwest, 5-2, and the Middle Atlantic, 3-1, before facing Mexico in the championship bracket.
“This game got off to a rocky start,” Pate said of the Mexico matchup. “I think my guys were a bit nervous in front of 75,000 people.”
Raleigh’s World Series journey ended with a 5-3 loss to Mexico, as Mexico scored all of its runs in the first inning.
Hurand pitched five shutout innings, while Perez led with two hits and two RBI. Lietz tacked on another hit and RBI in the final inning.
“I am so proud of what these guys accomplished and how they went about doing it,” Rick Pate said of his team, which had a celebration banquet Tuesday night. “We received praise from opposing coaches and parents regarding the way our boys handled themselves both on the field and off.”
Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan
West Raleigh Blue 12U
RF Evan Ashworth, CF Payton Bloom
2B Joey Ferrari, OF/P Dominic Fritton
SS Payton Green, LF/2B Tanner Hunley
P/3B Zach Hurand, C Xander Lietz
LF/C Blake McCain, 1B/P Garrett Moffett
RF/2B Grayson Nichols, P/C Timothy Pate
3B/P Sam Perez
Coaches: Rick Pate, Brian Green, Craig Nichols