Following their 724 mile trek to Yankton, South Dakota, the Sikeston Bulldogs 9U All-Star team came back to Sikeston with a Cal Ripken Midwest Plains Regional championship trophy in hand.
"It took a lot of hard work," Steward said. "All the players on the team contributed."
The Bulldogs clinched the regional crown after a 14-2 win over the Rattlers of Cimarron River, Kan.
"When we went to Yankton, something happened up there," Sikeston coach Chris Steward said. "The kids really put it together. Saturday and Sunday during bracket play, those kids played unbelievably all three games. I couldn't believe how it all fell into place.
"Our pitching was great, our hitting was incredible and guys were coming through that normally haven't come through in the clutch. I couldn't be more proud of these kids."
Sikeston got their championship performance off to a torrid start at Yankton Sertoma's 1st Dakota Field last Sunday taking on eight different teams in four days.
They firmly gave themselves an early lead with four runs in the top of the first inning. Following a run-scoring bunt by Payton Howard, Sikeston pounced on Cimarron River with three more runs including a two RBI single by Steward and an RBI single by Bryant Avery.
"Bunting and executing runs," Howard said when asked what the Bulldogs did well throughout the tournament. "We scored runs on the steal too."
After the Rattlers answered with a pair of runs in their half of the first inning, Sikeston kept putting their foot on the gas.
The speedy Howard, again, bolted around the bases to give Sikeston a 5-2 lead in the second inning.
During the third, Avery and Sam Bledsoe began another Sikeston rally with singles while Kaden Wilburn pushed Avery across with a single of his own. Bledsoe was then brought in by Trace Wheetley following a suicide squeeze bunt that worked to perfection.
"We hit and ran the bases really good," Steward said when asked about how they played. "Pitching was really good too."
The Bulldogs added six more runs in the fifth and sixth innings as Wilburn had a two RBI single in the fifth. Steward added another RBI double in the sixth while Avery did the same.
"The theme that I really took from up there was that these kids have a lot of heart and a lot of fight in them," coach Steward said. "They just put it all together. The timing was great and their hard work paid off."
Harrison Moore and Avery, who was 4-4 with three singles, a double and an RBI, each pitched in the sixth to finish off the Rattlers to give Sikeston the Regional title.
Sikeston had a total of 13 hits in the finale.
Seth Spraggs, who had three strikeouts and no walks in three innings of work on the mound, earned the win for Sikeston.
Although they seemed to rise above their competition in Yankton, Sikeston didn't always play up to par throughout their playoff run.
Fighting struggles with pitching and getting the big hits when they needed them, seemed to be the theme when they went through the regular season and the state tournament in Carthage.
"We didn't play as well during the early part of the season," Steward said. "We had struggled through a few tournaments and we just couldn't quite put it together. We didn't play too well during the state tournament either and we squeaked by and had to play out of the loser's bracket our last game because we got beat in the finals by someone that was in the loser's bracket.
"We have a really good group of kids that play and get along with each other and they really came together though, despite our struggles."
Sikeston finished the state tournament with a 4-1 record leading up to the regional tournament.
Sikeston began the regional with a 10-0 win over the host team, Yankton. They ended up losing their second after a nail-biting 3-2 defeat at the hands of Bismark, North Dakota.
In their third and final game of pool play, Sikeston tied Cimarron River 6-6. Not knowing their fate until later in the day, the Sikeston All-Stars were feeling a little bummed about their 1-1-1 record thinking they would not be eligible for bracket play.
"At times, it was tough," Steward added. "When we were on our game though, we were doing good. We were beating everybody."
Sikeston ended their season with the most coveted trophy in their age group as well as a 20-plus win season.
"It was a total team effort," Steward said. "We had four or five guys that pitched and we had numerous guys come through in the hit department, which is what won it for us.
It was the boys that did it. They decided that they were going to win it and they weren't going to let anything get in their way."
Some information for this story was taken from Keith A. Brockberg and the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan as well as Sikeston coaches Chris Steward and Jason Bledsoe.