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Jackson's Cal Ripken baseball team finally breaks through regionals in 12-year-old level
The Jackson 12-year-old Cal Ripken baseball team rolled through its state and regional competition.
Now Jackson's very own "Boys of Summer" are ready to test their skills against the rest of the world.
Jackson will begin play Saturday in the Cal Ripken World Series in Aberdeen, Md. The 15-team event, which includes five international squads and concludes Aug. 21, will take place at the Ripken Youth Baseball Academy owned by the Hall of Famer.
"We're fired up, ready to go," Jackson coach Ron Clark said. "All the boys are really excited."
According to Clark, Jackson's recent Midwest Plains Regional championship in North Dakota was the culmination of a three-year run that saw the squad finally reach the biggest stage in Cal Ripken youth baseball.
Many of the youngsters on Jackson's current 12-man roster also played together on 10-year-old and 11-year-old teams that finished second in the regional each of the past two summers.
"We actually kind of started this three years ago, with about seven of these same kids playing for me all three years," Clark said. "We've been working together, learning more and more."
Jackson came full circle at the nine-team Midwest Plains Regional, going 5-0 and outscoring the opposition 66-13 -- including a win over a Minnesota squad in the title contest. That same group of players from Minnesota defeated Jackson in last year's regional.
"We finally got them," Clark said, laughing.
Clark said he had an idea early in the summer that the team, which also went undefeated in winning the state tournament that it hosted prior to the regional, could be something special.
"We went and played some tournaments against some real good teams and won them, where before we always would take second," Clark said. "Everything just clicked. This was just our year."
Team members are Clayton Baker, Logan Bartels, Bobby Clark, Chase Crowden, Afton Eftink, Ryan Gendron, Neil Johnson, Zach McDowell, Ethan Ruch, Mason Sander, Ben Stearns and Trace Uren. Nate Crowden and Mike Eftink are the assistant coaches.
"We've just got a real good group of boys, both on and off the field, and my coaches have done a great job," Clark said.
Jackson will play the first of four pool games at 11 a.m. Saturday against regional champion Bronx, N.Y.
Also in Jackson's American Division are two more regional winners -- Lexington, Ky., and Raleigh, N.C. -- along with a host team from Hartford County, Md.
The National Division consists of regional champs Willametta Valley, Ore.; Oahu, Hawaii; Marblehead, Mass.; and Meridian, Miss.; along with Maryland state champion Calvert County.
International Division squads are from Australia, Canada, Korea, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.
The top two finishers from each division advance to single elimination competition Aug. 19, followed by United States and International championship games Aug. 20.
Finally, the U.S. and International winners square off Aug. 21 for the overall championship.
But before any baseball is even played, the 15 teams will get to enjoy various activities.
Festivities begin at 10:30 a.m. Friday with Skills Day as the squads join together to participate in a day of baseball contests, including a home run derby.
Almost immediately following Skills Day is the Outback Banquet of Champions, with Cal Ripken and his brother Bill -- also a former major-leaguer -- scheduled to address the crowd.
Opening ceremonies begin at 6:30 p.m. Friday, followed by the first tournament game. The evening will then conclude with fireworks.
"It should be a lot of fun for the kids, not just the baseball, but all the other events they have planned," Clark said. "Cal Ripken comes to the games and shakes hands with all the players, which will be neat.
Even better for Jackson would be a strong showing on the field -- and perhaps even another championship. After rarely being challenged in reaching this point, Clark said he's ready to see just how the team stacks up.
"We're ready to see where we're at, against other teams across the nation and world," Clark said. "No matter what happens, we're all so proud of the boys.
"But if we play our game, I know in my heart we can compete with everybody there."