West Raleigh 12-year-olds win Cal Ripken World Series

West Raleigh’s 12-year-old baseball team returned home Sunday as champions of the Cal Ripken World Series in Aberdeen, Md.

The Southeast Region champions completed an undefeated run at the tournament Saturday night with a 5-2 victory against Mexico in the international final, leaving with enough trophies and free equipment to virtually fill a trailer.

“Winning was beyond words,” West Raleigh coach Bryan Holjes said. “Everybody was loose. We had reached our first goal to win the U.S. championship and wear the USA jersey (in the international final).

“Then the final got off to a great start. Lane Rhodes hit a home run in the first inning and Garrett McCraw didn’t have to throw too many pitches.”

McCraw was the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament with a win in the international final for a 3-0 tournament record along with two home runs. Rhodes, a catcher, was the MOP of the final game; his 3-run home run gave West Raleigh a 4-0 lead. Left fielder Paul Ryder was the MOP of the U.S. championship with a 3-run homer Friday to help beat Harford (Md.) 7-5.

It was West Raleigh’s second straight U.S. title at the Cal Ripken World Series final, but last year’s team fell in the international championship.

Holjes said this year’s team was similar to 2013’s squad despite 100-percent turnover of the 12-player roster.

“We knew we matched up well in terms of defense and hitting with the 2013 West Raleigh team,” he said. “Another factor is we had a really good roster and everybody plays. Everybody did something special this summer.”

West Raleigh finished the year with a 36-1-1 record, picking up district, state and regional titles to advance to the World Series, where they went 7-0.

The roster also was also tournament tested. The same group of players won Southeast Region titles three of the past four years. Except for the 12-year-olds, who compete for a World Series title, the Cal Ripken season ends with regional play.

“They know each other well,” Holjes said. “They’ve played a lot of baseball together.”

Holjes said West Raleigh voted a decade ago to compete in the Cal Ripken version of youth baseball over the traditional format of the Little League World Series, currently being played in Williamsport, Pa.. Cal Ripken is played on a bigger field, and stolen bases are premitted.

“Our board of directors voted it’s a more advanced level,” Holjes said. “”We feel it better prepares them for high school baseball.”

Holjes said the 12-player roster is split with half entering seventh grade and the other half eighth.