CHARLESTON -- Fresh off their fourth state title in five years, the Charleston Fighting Squirrels will begin their hunt for a return trip to the World Series this weekend when they host the 2011 Midwest Plains Regional Senior Babe Ruth Tournament.
"I'll tell you right now, home field advantage is going to play a huge part of this weekend," Charleston coach Michael Minner said of his team's chances. "Our field is huge and people aren't used to the gaps or alleys here. We know how the ball rolls here and all the little quirky spots."
Already guaranteed a spot in the regional due to their hosting duties, the Squirrels (22-17) went out and proved their worth this past Sunday when they defeated the Chaffee Squids 13-0 for the Missouri Senior Babe Ruth State Championship.
With all the other seven tournament teams coming from out of the area, except for the Chaffee Squids, Minner hopes his team can use the notorious hot and humid summer weather of Southeast Missouri to his advantage.
"The big thing is probably going to be the 115-degree heat index," he said. "You can't prepare yourself for that, but we've played in the heat all summer in a lot of hot afternoon games. Teams from Colorado, Minnesota and North Dakota, those teams that don't have much humidity, when they get out of the air conditioning it's going to suck the life out of them.
"It's going to suck the life out of us too, but hopefully we'll be a little more prepared. It's just one of those things that whenever those teams come in from other states there's always three or four teams saying 'oh my god, it's miserable.' It's just another summer afternoon for (us)."
No matter what advantage the Squirrels might hold, the road to the Senior Babe Ruth World Series won't be an easy one.
Including the Squirrels, who won the regional in 2008, this year's tournament boasts the last three Midwest Plains Regional champions with Minnetonka, Minn. and Ottumwa, Iowa advancing to the World Series in 2009 and 2010 respectively.
Charleston will open up the double elimination tournament facing Coffeyville, Kan., Friday at 8 p.m. directly following the tournament's opening ceremonies which start at 7:30 p.m.
"I don't know anything about them," Minner said of Coffeyville. "We've seen a picture. We're going to try to match up and we'll set our rotation (soon). We haven't really talked much about what we're going to do pitching wise.
"It probably won't be the same as state. We'll try to go accordingly off things that we know about past teams that have come from certain states."
Missouri's other representative, the Chaffee Squids, will play Limon, Col. on Friday at 1:30 p.m.
Much like the Squirrels, Chaffee (32-10) will go into their first round game unsure of what to prepare for.
"I know nothing about them," Squids' coach Aaron Horrell said. "I've heard Colorado usually brings one of the weaker teams, but I've also heard now that they have a lefty that throws 90 miles per hour.
"So we have no idea what to expect so we're just going to play to win."
On his team's chances Horrell added, "I know we didn't win state, but I feel like we're just as quality of a team as anybody else that's going to be there."
Other games on opening day include Fargo, North Dakota v. Ottumwa at 10:30 a.m. and Minnetonka v. Columbus, Kan. at 4:30 p.m.