Last year, several coaches formed a select team of players from the Westminster in-house youth baseball program to play in area tournaments. The idea was to give them an opportunity to travel and play different competition, something they wouldn't normally get as in-house players.
Playing against other 10-under teams, the youngsters struggled. They won only a couple of games.
Program officials thought they had a good idea and they tried again this year. It turns out they were a lot more successful this time around. After making it to the semifinals in two tournaments, they struck gold in Ellicott City two weekends ago. There, they won the 37th Howard County Youth Program (HYCP) Invitational Baseball Tournament's 12-under championship.
Team head coach Lou Sanchez and assistants Mike Barrett, Kris Heefner and Joe Wasmer brought back four of the players from the previous year's team. The others were recommended by their respective team coaches and were selected for the team through tryouts.
There wasn't a lot of time to train the players before the tournaments and their own teams' seasons — however, the coaches made good use of it.
"We only had a week, so we practiced really hard. We worked four times that week, three to four hours per session," Sanchez said.
The training was enough for the kids to give a good account of themselves.
They easily won their first two games in the Linthicum Tournament on June 24 but were beaten in a semifinal game and knocked out of the fray. Still, they finished third of nine teams, decidedly better than the year before.
The same thing happened in mid-July in the Brooklyn Park Tournament. They won easy games over the PG County Kings and Atholton Youth Recreation Association (AYRA) 12-under teams, but the Kings came back to beat Westminster 11-8 in the semifinal game.
"It hurt us to lose, especially the kids," Sanchez said. "But, [the Kings] made the plays when they had to."
"We went back to practice, and we practiced three-hour sessions. The kids didn't want to stop. I had to tell them I have a life," Sanchez said with a laugh.
They tried again in Ellicott City last weekend, where the third time was a charm.
The opening game on Saturday against number one-seeded Howard County Blue was a tough one. Westminster scored four runs in the first inning, but Blue retaliated with five in the second. However, the locals later scored five more runs to beak a 5-all tie and went on to win 10-8.
Jack Heefner paced a balanced Westminster attack with two triples and a double.
Game two, against AYRA, was tied 5-5 when Westminster scored four runs in the fifth inning to lead 9-5. The problem was, it rained at that point, and the score reverted to the previous inning and a 5-5 tie. Heefner had three hits, and Jon Sanchez, two.
Westminster pitcher Lee fanned the side to preserve the tie. That brought the locals to bat in the home half with a chance to win the game and tournament. The kids didn't fail.
Wasmer walked and stole second and third. Then Logan Baird lined a single over the shortstop to win the game and championship, 7-6. Sanchez gave credit to the coaches and parents for their hand in winning the championship.
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"The coaches really pushed the kids hard in practice. Afterward, the parents could see why we did," Sanchez said. "And you have to give those parents credit too. We took those parents' summers away."
However, Sanchez believes the drive of the players themselves was the big key to their success. Perhaps typical of that drive was the fact that catcher Ryan Jordan caught nine of the 12 innings in the final two games on that hot Sunday.
"He was just amazing as hot as it was out there," Sanchez recalled. "I asked him before if he could do that and he answered, 'whatever it takes, coach.'"