For the second time in the same week the Churubusco 12 & U team found themselves in a familiar situation, the Championship game of another tournament. “For a 11-year old ladened team this is something I really didn’t expect coming into this season,” stated coach Dan Burkhart. “Starting six or seven, 11-year-olds each game, can get tough facing all twelve-year-old teams night in and night out. I told them we would see bigger, faster, harder throwing players, but if we played smart and worked hard we could beat all of them. That’s what is happening this year as the Eagles have exceeded everyone’s expectations.”
Coming off the great high of winning the Warsaw Invitational the Eagles were back in action the next night with pool play in the 2009 Auburn Invitational. Facing a tough Auburn team the Eagles must have felt the “jet lag” of the previous tournament dropping the opener 10-1.
With a much needed few days of rest, the Eagles took the field Friday night for pool game number two versus Sturgis, MI. A quick start vaulted Sturgis to a 5-0 lead. Behind timely hitting from Devin Peters, Derek Bowyer and Jhai Herendeen the Eagles were able to fight back to a 6-5 lead. Then in the fifth the game changed on a line shot straight to the chest of Josh Howk. Sturgis number three hitter lined a ball straight back at Howk which plated a run. “That really changed the game because Josh was cruising and they were having a hard time getting on to him,” said coach Burkhart. After the pitching change the Eagles would find the third out but after three runs the damage had been done. Sturgis would bring in their closer to shut the Eagles down for the 8-6 victory.
Saturday brought an early game and the Eagles last chance for a win to get them into tournament play. ” How these pools work, you have to play well and hold teams down defensively. I knew even though it was a small chance we could pull it off. With the Eagles down severely in run differential they had to beat New Haven and hold them to less then two runs,” explained coach Burkhart. “I didn’t tell the boys this but we did set a “fun” goal of shutting the team out.” The sneaky strategy of finding a way to challenge the boys without pressuring somehow worked. Out after out the Eagles found themselves closer to the tournament. The bats woke up in the third with a Devin Peters double followed by a Landon Harris single. The Eagles would plate two more to take a 3-0 lead. That is all they would need as 11-year-old Howk would close the door with nine straight outs, pushing the Eagles to face an undefeated New Haven Gold team in the semi-finals.
As the visiting team the Eagles found their early bats in the semi-final game. Base hits by Peters and Bowyer started the Eagles with a boom. A two out Garret Simmons double drove in two, while consecutive hits by Howk and Joe Esslinger pushed the early Eagle lead to 5-0. Four more runs in the second topped with a three-run home run by Luke Brunner, his eighth in all-star play, gave the Eagles a 9-2 lead. New Haven would plate two more in the bottom half but it was Brunner again in the third with a soaring solo blast that stunted the New Haven rally at 10-4. New Haven wouldn’t quit as they inched to 10-7 heading into the fourth. A beautiful sac-bunt by Isaiah Ramsey moved two Eagles into scoring position with two outs for Peters to clean up with an RBI single plating Howk and Blake Gross. The Eagles would push their lead to 14-7 in the top of the sixth when Dakota Labenz came to the plate with two aboard. Dakota hitting his eighth homer of the year would be all the Eagles needed to cap a 17-7 win and an appearance in their second championship game in the same week.
Facing the same Sturgis team they faced the night before the Eagles looked for a different outcome. Much of the same would plague the Eagles though as Sturgis jumped to a quick 5-0 lead in the bottom half of the first inning. “They are probably the best hitting team we have faced all year, I haven’t seen a team 1-9 hit the ball so hard,” commented coach Burkhart. “I knew they were going to hit, we just made a couple errors and that allowed them to score runs in spots they shouldn’t.” With the Sturgis pitcher stifling the Eagles bats through four innings the Eagles looked for some type of rally in the fifth. A two out walk allowed Landon Harris to start the rally with a home run over the left field fence. A base running error allowed Sturgis out of the inning with an 8-2 lead. Three quick outs and the Eagles found themselves with their last at bat. Two quick outs found the boys clinging to their last life. A walk by Brunner brought Simmons to the plate; Garret blasted a home run to left field. Consecutive walks by Howk and Harris followed by a Gross single loaded the bases. Ramsey drew the fourth walk of the inning to plate a run and close the lead to 8-5. With Peters coming to the plate Churubusco’s chances looked very bright. Sturgis then turned to their flame throwing closer who got Peters to pop up ending the game.
Although the Eagles rally came up just short, it’s quite an accomplishment and something not expected by many. Two championship games in the same week had 12-year-old Devin Peters saying, “I like getting used to hearing our name in the Championship game.” The Eagles will look to make a third appearance in as many weeks at this year’s Churubusco Invitational August 6th – 9th. This year’s invite will include three area teams: Auburn, Hamilton Park and Syracuse. Invitational pool play will start Thursday night at 6:00 p.m. You can catch the Eagles in action Thursday and Friday night in pool play, both games starting at 8 p.m.