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Ripken Series opens with Guinness Record and a win by Harford's Hickory Hornets

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Friday's opening ceremonies for this year's Cal Ripken Major 70 World Series in Aberdeen, the 18-team, nine-day tournament that draws teams from as close as Harford County and as far away as New Zealand, saw a Guinness World Record title for bubble gum blowing set by players and fans, plus a repeat victory in the home run derby by a player from the local team, the Hickory Hornets.

All in all, it was a great night for the Hornets, who were edged out for the title in another of the skills competition but then won the opening game of the series in convincing fashion.

Before the teams were introduced and the skills competition got under way at Cal Sr.'s Yard, a large digital timer was set up on the pitching mound, and a Ripken Baseball volunteer explained to the attending players, coaches, parents and fans that they would be taking part in an attempt to break a world record.

Prior to Friday, the Guinness World Record mark for most individual gum bubbles held at the same time stood at 544.

As individually wrapped gum balls from Ford Gum, makers of Big League Chew, were handed out to the crowd, a representative from Guinness told the participants that they would have to chew the gum for one minute, then hold a bubble for 30 seconds while a count was taken. Anyone failing to hold the bubble for the required amount of time would be discounted from the final tally.

As the enthused crowd attempted to keep their bubbles blown, the count was taken and the Guinness representative announced that, though some people had been disqualified, the final number came to 721, smashing the previous record.

Gavin Vangronigen of the Pacific Northwest team from Hanford, Calif., said he was honored to have been a part of a world record attempt.

"I knew about it before we showed up tonight, and I thought it sounded really cool," he said as he and his teammates warmed up for the skills competition. "I was just trying to keep my bubble from popping the whole time, trying not to laugh. It was a lot of fun. This is going to be a good week here. I've never played anywhere this nice."

Winn Morley, who took part in the record attempt with his teammates from the Midwest Plains team from Denver, Colo., agreed.

"That was a pretty cool way to start the [tournament]," he said. "This field is really, really nice. We're all excited to get to play on it."

Skills competition

Following the record setting bubble blowing, the tournament's skills competition started off with the double play event, in which the shortstop, second baseman, first baseman and catcher went through a series of three double play combinations while being timed.

Emerging from that competition with the quickest time was the Republic of Korea squad.

Next on deck was the base running relay, which had teams of four players combine for two laps around the bases.

The Puerto Rican team, a new addition to the tournament along with the New Zealand squad, took top honors, coming in with a best combined time of 25.21 seconds.

The next event was the timed relay throw, in which three members of each team had to get the baseball from the outfield wall to home plate in the shortest amount of time. As it was a head-to-head competition, the team that got the ball to home plate first moved on, while the other side was eliminated.

The Hickory Hornets, from the Bel Air area and representing Harford County at the tournament for a second straight year, battled all the way to the event's championship round, beating Ohio Valley team from Homewood Ill. in the semifinals by a fraction of a second.

In the title round, however, the Hornets were beaten, also by a fraction of a second, by the Southeast team from West Raleigh, N.C., the 2013 CRWS U.S. Champion and runner-up for the tournament.

Hickory's Knoble top's derby

The home run derby, which through preliminary rounds had been whittled down to just two players earlier on Friday, was the last event of the opening ceremonies, and it did not disappoint.

Last year's winner, the Hickory Hornets' Trent Gast-Woodward, was called out before the final round began to take some cuts, and the 2013 champ, who is too old to play in this year's series, blasted five home runs over the wall on eight swings.

Putting the Hornets back in the final this year was Colton Knoble, who started the derby off slow, but managed to crank a 275-foot home run over the center field wall on the last of his eight allotted swings, finishing with five homers.

Australia's Matthew Martin took the plate next, and though he followed Knoble's act by hitting a long homer on his final swing, the Aussie competitor finished with four homers, giving Knoble the title.

Hornets win opening game

Following the derby, the Hornets started tournament play rolling with an 5-1 win over Middle Atlantic champ, Bear, Del., at Cal Sr.'s Yard.

Home run derby champ Knoble showed he was no slouch on the mound, either, hurling a complete game two-hitter, while adding two RBIs to lead Hickory.

"It feels good to get everything rolling," Knoble said, seconds after receiving his Ron Tellefsen Player of the Game Award. "It just felt good."

Knoble's two-run double was part of a four-run, third inning rally, fueled by Ryan Ishak's leadoff single. Ishak, who scored the first run on a wild pitch, also finished with two hits, while Tyler Leach added an RBI single in the inning.

Hickory added its fifth run in the fifth. Phillip Winfield opened the inning with a single, but raced to third when the ball was misplayed in center field. Winfield scored on Hunter Wright's RBI groundout to first.

Bear's lone run came across in the fourth. Mason Keene reached base on an error, stole second and later scored on Garrett Casey's RBI single. Casey was the starting and losing pitcher.

"We've worked so hard, this team has played the best teams in the state of Maryland," Hickory manager Russell Metz said. "I'm not surprised. These kids can play with the best of them.

rmcroberts@theaegis.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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