The Powell Little League 10U All-Stars battled to a 1-2 record against tough competition in last week’s District 1 Tournament in Lovell, finishing fourth.
“I’m proud of how they [Powell] performed in the tournament,” said Powell coach Joe Gardner. “For them to come wanting to play, it was awesome. And I had a great coaching staff, we all worked really well together.”
“The goal is of course to go to state, but in reality the ultimate goal is to make them better baseball players,” Gardner said. “I think they became that.”
The All-Stars had practiced together for three weeks and had just one practice game under their belts heading into the tournament. This was Gardner’s second season at the helm of an All-Star team, which had just four returning players from last season among the 12 boys and one girl on the squad. There were nine new players on the roster this postseason, including two who had just completed their first season of organized baseball: Kaedenze Carter, Cody Fisher, Braxton Batt, Brady Harvey, Tanner Seifert, Dakota Erickson, Taeson Schultz, Christian Love, Adam Andreasen, Hugo Torres, Ben Ostermiller, Talon Nuss and Ryan Barrus.
“To take them from where they were, every single kid got better,” Gardner said, adding, “The hardest thing as a coach is that I have to take a step back sometimes and tell myself they’re 9 and 10 years old. Especially in that first game, they were nervous; they’d never been in this type of situation.”
The team gelled together pretty quickly, according to Gardner, considering the limited time they had to learn to play together.
“It took a while for them [the All-Stars] to start trusting each other, because they’re so used to, from T-ball to coach pitch, they’ve always been the stud on the team,” Gardner explained. “If they didn’t do good, the team didn’t do good. To get them to believe in each other, it takes time, and I think they started figuring that out by the end of the tournament.”
Powell opened the tournament Thursday with a 16-14 loss to Riverton. What made this game memorable was a nine-run deficit Powell overcame to tie the game. Riverton ultimately outlasted the local All-Stars for the win, but Gardner and assistant coaches Cory Nuss and Stacey Carter were proud of how the team hung in and refused to quit.
“My job as the 10U coach is to make sure these kids understand baseball,” Gardner said. “I’m super-happy with their effort, they didn’t put their heads down. When you’re down by nine runs at that age, it’s easy for the team to go, ‘Eh, screw it, we can’t come back from that.’ But they just put their heads down and started playing as a team. I was very proud of that, just to see them overcome that adversity.”
Powell’s second game was a 4-3 win over Lander Friday morning. Gardner said great pitching and good defense were the keys to that game. The All-Stars played fundamentally sound baseball from start to finish, earning their only win for the tournament.
“At this level, we try to preach, ‘Just throw strikes,’” Gardner said. “If they hit it, our defense will make the plays. Adam Andreasen pitched that game and just pitched light’s out. He got some strikeouts, he let them hit the ball and our defense made plays. We played baseball, it was really fun to watch.”
Powell had to battle back in the Lander game as well, and Gardner said that, despite having to play from behind, the team kept smiles on their faces.
“We told them, ‘Hey, we put up nine yesterday in one inning, how about we go put up one right now?’” he said. “They put up two, and smiles happened, the defense happened. It was just a super, super-fun group of kids to coach.”
The tournament ended Friday night for Powell with a 16-0 rout at the hands of Big Horn. Gardner said the team kept their heads up despite the lopsided score, and he and the other coaches were proud of the team’s effort.
“You just have to tell them as a team to keep on fighting,” he said. “At this level of baseball, it’s not unheard of to put up nine runs in an inning — Riverton did it to us in the first game, and we turned around and did it to them. Let’s swing at good pitches and get one hit, that’s how it starts.”
Powell was able to get runners on base, but the team was unable to settle into a groove; just when it seemed momentum was about to shift, Big Horn would make a play to end it. Despite that, the effort never waned, and Powell fought until the end.
“Our big slogan was ‘Just get better,’” he said. “Every time you step on a baseball field, get better at something. That’s all we tried to push. All we wanted to do was teach the kids to play better baseball. It was fun, practices were always fun. Those kids would come out and practice in that heat we had, and not one kid ever complained. They were just having fun.”
With the state tournament in Powell this week, Gardner said he’s hoping the team will come out to the ball fields, even though it’s tough not to be able to play in it.
“I hope they come out, most of them said they will,” he said. “I’m sure there are three or four kids that are out camping right now. I want these kids to fall in love with baseball the way I did when I was their age. Every summer day, me and five or six of my buddies were playing baseball. I hope it’s the same for these kids. They were a fun, hard-working group of kids, and that’s all you can ask for as a coach.”