Capahas ready to open NBC Mid-South Regional

Friday, July 13, 2007
Capahas player Levi Olson (19) was congratulated on a home run during a recent game. Plaza Tire opens play today in the NBC Mid-South Regional, a tournament the Capahas have won the past two years. (AARON EISENHAUER

By sheer numbers of teams alone, the Plaza Tire Capahas figure to have a bit more competition as they shoot for their third straight National Baseball Congress Mid-South Regional title.

Just how much more remains to be seen, but Plaza Tire is taking nothing for granted as the four-team event begins today with two games at Capaha Field.

"I never expect a game to be easy, and I don't ever want my players to expect it," Bolen said. "The way I look at is, you have to respect every team you play. If not, that's a good way to get beat."

The Capahas (20-5) have had little trouble winning the regional the past two years, outscoring their opponents 22-6 last season and 40-4 in 2005.

But Plaza Tire will have to contend with an extra squad this year, after the 2006 tournament included only three teams.

"That's the first time we've ever had less than four teams," said Bolen, whose squad has hosted the regional annually since 1991. "It makes it a lot better with a four-team tournament, especially as far as an even bracket goes."

Joining the Capahas will be the Charleston Riverdogs, the Springfield (Mo.) Generals and the Pine Bluff (Ark.) Braves.

The Riverdogs and Braves open the double-elimination event at 4 p.m. today. The Capahas and Generals square off at 7:30 p.m.

Today's two losers play at 1 p.m. Saturday in an elimination game, with today's winners playing at 4 p.m. Saturday. Another elimination contest will follow at 7:30 p.m.

The championship round will be Sunday at a time to be determined.

The tournament winner automatically qualifies for the NBC World Series in Wichita, Kan., where the Capahas have competed each of the past 25 years.

But, while in some of those seasons the Capahas received at-large World Series berths, Bolen doesn't believe that would happen this year.

"There are so many leagues around the country now, there just aren't as many at-large bids as there used to be," said Bolen, who has a 1,297-338 record in his 41st season with the Capahas and would reach 1,300 wins this weekend if Plaza Tire captures the title. "That's why this tournament is so important.

"To get to Wichita, we pretty much have to win this tournament."

The Capahas have been dominant so far this year, outscoring the opposition 205-72.

Plaza Tire has a team batting average above .350 and a team ERA under 2.00.

"We've played good baseball all the way around," Bolen said.

Bolen said right-hander Phillip Riley will start on the mound tonight. He is 5-0.

"We've got so many guys throwing the ball well, and Phillip has really looked good," Bolen said.

Springfield coach Logan Hughes, while respecting the Capahas, believes his team will give a good account of itself tonight against the favored home squad.

The Generals went 0-2 in last year's tournament, but Hughes said this is basically a different group of players.

"From what I can tell, we're a lot better team this year than last year," said Hughes, who was not affiliated with the Generals in 2006. "I think we have a pretty solid team."

The Generals are in the Red River League that consists primarily of teams from Oklahoma and Texas.

Hughes said most of the Generals currently compete on the junior college level, with a few players from four-year programs sprinkled in.

"We're a young team, mostly freshmen and sophomores," Hughes said.

The Generals have two Division I players in catcher Eric Tennyson and first baseman/outfielder Tye Throneberry. Both players saw limited action this year as redshirt freshmen at Central Arkansas.

Two of the Generals' better pitchers were freshmen this year at Springfield's Drury University, which advanced to the NCAA Division II regionals.

Blake Wixson, a 6-foot-5 right-hander, made six starts for Drury. He was 1-3 with a 4.81 ERA. Hughes said he will likely get the nod tonight.

"He [Wixson] throws the ball with decent velocity, but the thing is, he's a pitcher. He puts the ball where he wants to," Hughes said.

Sam Pirtle, another right-hander, was Drury's top reliever, going 4-2 with six saves and a 2.29 ERA.

Added Hughes, an assistant baseball coach at Division II Missouri-St. Louis: "We're real excited about playing in the tournament. I know the Capahas are a good team, but I think we'll give them a good game."

Riverdogs co-manager Ray Craft said his team is also looking forward to competing in the regional.

The Riverdogs (7-11) took part in the event during their first seven seasons as a program but did not participate last year.

"We're always ready to play ball," Craft. "We've lost four one-run games or our record could be better, but we've played some good, competitive baseball."

Pine Bluff has been a perennial regional participant, generally with little success, although last year the Braves reached the title game. They lost to the Capahas 10-3.

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