Team that includes three Taft players headed for the World Series
The World Series is the pinnacle that every baseball player wants to reach, whether it be in the Major Leagues, Little League or Babe Ruth. This last week, the Bakersfield Northwest All Stars hosted the Pacific Southwest Regional Tournament here in Taft at Taft Union High School's Monty Reedy Field. The tournament lasted for six days with some amazing baseball games between some very talented young athletes. The Northwest All Stars came away as Tournament Champions and will be headed to the Babe Ruth World Series in Bismarck, North Dakota.
The teams journey began on Monday night when they took on the team representing Guam. The Northwest All Stars ran away with this game 16-0. Hudson Barrett and Blake Edgmon combined on the pitchers mound to throw a no hitter. Barrett pitched three innings and had seven strike outs and two walks. Edgmon pitched one inning and had three strike outs and one walk.
Tuesday's game was against Palo Alto and Bakersfield won this game 8-1. The Northwest All Stars started off kind of slow in the game but came to life in the third inning when they scored six runs. AJ Cleveland helped power the offense going 3 for 3 at the plate. On the mound, Dylan Smith pitched four innings and only allowed one hit while striking out four batters and walking three. Kaleb Hay closed the game out pitching the final three innings and allowed two hits and one run while striking out three and walking two.
Wednesday saw the Northwest All Stars face off against the team from Piute, Utah. This was a low scoring affair but the boys got the win 5-2 regardless. Hudson Barrett started on the mound for Bakersfield and had an excellent showing. Barrett pitched five innings allowing three hits and two runs, he struck out six batters and walked none. Blake Edmonton closed the game out and allowed two hits and recorded three strikeouts.
Thursday’s game was against Long Beach Heartwell and was a preview of the Championship game and one of the toughest games the team played in the tournament. Long Beach grabbed an early lead in the first inning scoring a run, but that lead was short lived when the lead off batter AJ Cleveland of the Bakersfield team launched a home run over the center field wall to get his team on the scoreboard and tie the game. Both teams went scoreless in the second, and then in the third inning with bases loaded, Long Beach batter Robert Linares hit a grand slam home run to give his team a commanding lead. The Northwest team did not get panicked, in fact Austin Charles told his team mates in the dugout, “I hope they don’t think that four runs is going to be enough to beat us.” Sure enough, the team stayed composed and went back to work and got four runs of their own to tie the game again.
Heartwell was held scoreless in the fourth inning, while Bakersfield went on to score four more runs to take the lead. They did not get excited because they were well aware of the caliber of team that they were playing and they kept the mentality that the score was still zero to zero and they had to keep fighting. Long Beach was able to score two more runs in the sixth inning and then Northwest scored one run and held Long Beach scoreless in the seventh to take the win 10-7. This was definitely one of the best games that had been played in the tournament so far.
This win gave the Northwest All Stars a day off on Friday and put them into the Championship game on Saturday. When Saturday came around, they faced off against Heartwell again to see who would walk away as champion. This game was even closer than the first time the two teams played, with a World Series appearance on the line, neither team would budge. For the first five innings, it was a duel of pitchers and defense as no could score. Finally in the sixth inning, the deadlock was broken as AJ Cleveland Jr. was able to score on a single hit by Hudson Barrett. Northwest scored again in the seventh inning and had to hold off Heartwell one last time to get the win. Heartwell wasn’t going to go down that easy and grabbed two runs to tie the game up and send it into extra innings, which was only fitting since this was the Championship game. Northwest took the lead again in the eighth when Michael Baker was able to score on a sacrifice fly ball hit by Owen May. Heartwell was able to tie the game again on an error committed by Northwest and then with the bases loaded, a single hit by Long Beach ended the game and would force a second game between the two teams.
Playing a second game proved to be beneficial for the Northwest team in the latter stages of the game. In the first inning, Bakersfield scored three runs to set the tone of the game, there was a different attitude in the dugout during this game, the boys were not going to hold anything back and keep their foot on the gas throughout the whole game. In the third inning the score was now 4-1 in favor of Northwest. Long Beach made their first pitching change as the Northwest team was starting to get a hold of everything that was being thrown at them. This is where having to play the second game helped out the Northwest team, the bullpen of Heartwell was exhausted, they had to play two extra games to get here and had nothing left in the tank. Northwest knew this and was prepared to light up the scoreboard. Northwest went on to score three runs in the fifth inning and another five runs in the sixth inning to make the score 12-1.
It was Heartwell’s last chance to keep the game going. Blake Edgmon was on the mound for the Northwest All Stars and the coaches game him the opportunity to close out the game he started. The first Long Beach batter flies out to Andrew Sherrell for the first out. The next batter was able to hit a single but was thrown out when the next batter hit a grounder to Logan Beard who made a quick toss to Austin Charles at second base for out number two. At this point, every player in the dugout was up and ready to run out on the field and celebrate as soon as the third out came. They didn’t have to wait long as the final batter hit the ball right back to the pitcher Edgmon who tossed it to Michael Baker at first for an easy out and a Championship.
The boys stormed out onto the field screaming and yelling, smiling and hugging each other. They had just booked themselves a trip to the Babe Ruth World Series. Having watched every game from the dugout during the tournament, this team plays some tremendous baseball. Even when mistakes were made, they didn’t get down on each other, they talked about what they needed to do to correct it. The baseball IQ of these boys is ridiculous, for players this young to already have the knowledge that they have about the game is really impressive. Coach Les Clark commented about the boys, “These boys played hard, they are a great bunch who I have had the pleasure of being around for many years. Some of those boys on the team I have been with since they were six and others since they were nine and to see their development and everything that they can do, to put that into a victory and give us an opportunity to go the World Series is amazing. There are five or six of the boys that had the chance to play in a World Series with me in Florida when they were 12. I told the boys that when we head to North Dakota that they are going to need to get off the plane and win. There is not going to be anytime to relax so we are going to keep working hard and getting better.”
AJ Cleveland also had some comments about the tournament and the Championship game. He said, “The tournament was great, I loved it. It was definitely better than last year, it was a little hot but overall it was really fun. Our first game we were up two to nothing and they came back and tied it up, I was thinking let’s go shuts them down and go use our sticks because we are all good hitters and we all know how to get the ball in play but they were just better than us in the first game. I think we all shut down really quick after the first game because everyone was quiet, but as team mates we know that we are all good and we had to pick each other up in the second game. At the start of the second game, we had a little bit of anger in us, we knew we had that first game and we let it get away from us. We were mad at everyone and everything and went out there really aggressive. We went out and played like we could and when that last out came, it felt amazing. Now that we will be headed to the World Series, we are going to expect a lot of good baseball, a lot of close games like the first one we played today. We can’t go in there expecting to blow out every team because that is not going to happen.”
As well as being a member of the winning team, Cleveland was also named Tournament MVP. He commented, “I was not expecting that at all, especially with the talent that we have on this team, we are all MVP’s honestly.” The tournament was a success and was run very smoothly with help from the WSRPD and Taft Union High School. Les Clark commented, “I think it was great for our community and great for our economy. I hope that it opens the doors for future events that could possibly be even bigger.” Congratulations to the Northwest All Stars on winning the tournament and moving on to the World Series, it will definitely be something that these boys will remember for a lifetime.