By Paul Meadors
If winning the Cal Ripken 9U state championship was a perfect ice cream sundae, adding a Cal Ripken Pacific Southwest Regional title was the cherry on top for the Clovis 9U Babe Ruth All-Stars. Order up young men, you can lay claim to both.
The boys from Clovis plowed through the competition early in the state tournament in Hanford, beating Lodi 12-0, Kerman 11-1 and Bakersfield 13-3 before facing Bakersfield again in the championship game. They prevailed with a 4-2 victory, a sweet one at that especially after suffering a bitter defeat in last year’s semi-final.
“Winning State was our realistic goal all along so I think we all were pretty anxious throughout the tournament,” said head coach Doug Cheney. “At least for me and my coaching staff, we never felt over confident, not even after we were regularly winning games by double digits. We were far more nervous during the State tournament than during the Regional tournament.”
Good thing they got the nerves out of their system because they played with poise and relaxation in the Pacific Southwest Regional Tournament, playing at beautiful Safarjian Field in Kingsburg. And the magic and child-like innocence of the game of baseball shined through – the kids had fun.
“The Regional tournament was really fun for all of us,” said Cheney. “During the first three games of pool play there really wasn’t a ton of pressure. We had already accomplished what we had set out to do, win State, so we were just enjoying being there. It was fun.”
After completing pool play 3-0 with a massive run differential they earned the overall No. 1 seed. Winning this tournament then became a real possibility. But after the scorching start to the tournament, they found themselves down early to Rohnert Park 8-1 through two innings. No pressure though, thought Cheney and his assistant Shawn McAvoy, scoring runs has never been a problem.
Sure enough the Clovis kids fought back, eventually winning in extra innings 14-13. Next up in the way of another title – familiar foe Bakersfield. After forcing extra innings again in the bottom of the sixth inning, third baseman Dominic DeCanio led off with a triple and after two intentional walks, up stepped first baseman Caleb Calhoun. Calhoun wasted no time and flared a single to right field. Game over, celebration time.
Cheney praised the play of super-star shortstop Edwin Estrada, who was named MVP of the Regional tournament. His two HRs in the Regional tournament were the only two HRs hit of the entire tournament. “You’d be hard pressed to find a better hitting 9-year-old in the country,” added Cheney. High praise indeed and we’ll be watching young Estrada’s career with great interest.
A special moment during this entire All-Star experience, one which started when over 40 players tried out, is the bond Cheney shared with his son, Tyler, who was on the team.
“So many coaches have talked to me about how hard it is to coach their son, that their son doesn’t listen to them,” said Cheney. “It’s not like that with us. Tyler is one of the easier kids on my team to coach. To be able to experience all of this with him has been really special.”
Pretty special indeed, special with a massive cherry on top.
All Clovis team members include: Caleb Calhoun, Jaden Carrillo, Tyler Cheney, Dominic DeCanio, Edwin Estrada, Eli Henderson, Marcel Leal, Brody McAvoy, Ty Miller, Matthew Preuss and Joey Ziese.