(Photos by David Jenkins, Staff)
NEWARK, OH. -- After winning the Midwest Plains Regional for the first time in program history, the Charleston Fighting Squirrels will be involved in another first for their program on Friday when they play in their first Senior Babe Ruth World Series game in Newark, Ohio.
"We're going to be out of our element," Squirrels head coach Michael Minner said. "I think that everybody should expect that when we get there. This is a first for us and we'll see what happens. We're going to try and keep the kids as loose as we can and get them to play the way that they have been. We're going to be doing something that we've never done before so you don't know how kids are going to react to that."
"This is a great opportunity for our kids and our community," Minner said. "We are very, very proud to be apart of this but at the same time, this is what we've set out to do at the beginning of the year. We've got a shot to win a national championship so coming back with something less than that would not fulfill our goal.
"We're happy to be apart of it but we're going to go out there and do everything in our power to try and bring home a championship for our community and our kids."
The Squirrels will have to rely on a pitching staff that has been nothing short of impressive recently. Especially with the way they pitched at the Midwest Regional in Charleston.
Starting with Steven Dooley.
Dooley, who came over to the Squirrels before the Missouri state tournament from Oran, has been their go-to-guy when it comes to who has the ball on the mound.
In the clinching game of the Missouri state championship, Dooley struck-out 16 batters to lead the Squirrels to their second straight state championship.
He also was the winning pitcher in the Midwest Regional Championship game, while East Prairie native and No. 2 pitcher, Tyler Whybark, shut the door on a surging Kansas team in the bottom of the seventh inning.
In most cases, pitching is the key to any teams success. And Minner knows it.
"It's probably safe to say that it's the same with all of the teams out there," Minner said. "If you pitch it, your going to be in the ball game and have a chance to win. If you don't pitch it, your not going to have a shot.
"We look at it like if we pitch well and play a little bit of defense we'll have a shot. You never know which team is going to show up offensively. But if the right team shows up we can throw up some runs, but you still have to hold these teams down. Fortunately, we've swung the bats pretty well recently and I would expect nothing less."
The World Series format is set up as a pool style tournament for the first four games. The teams with the best record through those four games will be seeded as a number one seed and receive a bye in the bracket. Out of the ten teams that will be there, the top six with the best records will advance to bracket play.
Including Charleston, those who will be playing in Newark will be Licking County, Ohio (host team), Long Island, NY., Mobile, AL. and Modesto, CA. will be representing the American Division. While Cape Cod, MA., Hammond, IN., Houma, LA., Portland, OR. and Calgary, AB Canada will be representing the National Division.
Possibly the biggest challenge for the Squirrels on their road to the World Series will be overcoming the nervousness that is flying in an airplane.
"We have 10 players and one assistant coach that have never been in an airplane before," Minner said. "I'm hoping that will be our big head case deal that we get over. Maybe once we get there, that will calm some of our nerves. There's probably more nerves about getting on a plane than playing ball."
Charleston will play their first game on Friday at 7:30 p.m. against the host team of the tournament Licking County, Ohio.