HIBBING — It’s not easy to repeat as a champion in anything.
The Hardee’s team in the Hibbing Youth Baseball League found that out this year as it struggled at times during the regular season and finished with a .500 record. The defending champion, Hardee’s started playing well near the end of the year and it was playing its best ball of the season entering the playoffs. On Thursday, Hardee’s faced a tough Lions Club team – one that finished first in the regular season standings – for the championship. Hardee’s was undefeated in the tournament so Lions Club needed to win on Thursday to force a final game on Monday.
In the game, Hardee’s scored two runs in the top of the fifth inning to erase a one-run deficit, and it then rode the strong pitching of Luke Nelson to take a 2-1 victory over Lions Club for its second straight championship.
Members of the winning Hardee’s team are Brayden Rewertz, Drew Forer, Luke Nelson, Ryder Petrie, Edrick Cardona, Hunter Tuomi, Evan Bolden, Jacob Maki, Aaron Rolf, Carson Tardy, and Cameron Hartikka. Coaches are Eric Rewertz, Jordan Kochevar and Ryan Nelson.
Members of the runner-up Lions Club team are Blake Kolden, Christion Dickson, Logan Maxwell, Luke Camel, Daynon Blight, Casey Niskanen, Dillon Duffney, Nick Stalboerger, Nathan Davidson, Joe Maxwell, and Ian Lerabee. Coaches are John Maxwell, Tim Dickson and Jeff Stalboerger.
Eric Rewertz, one of the coaches for the Hardee’s team, said there were six 12-year-olds on the team while the rest were 10-year-olds. He said it was not an easy road back to repeating as champion. He added that the team had two very good pitchers in Nelson and Drew Forer which was key to winning the title.
“We started out slow; we ended up .500 in the regular season and we got the third seed,” Rewertz explained. “We had a really good run here late in the year. The kids worked really hard this year and I am proud of how hard they worked.”
John Maxwell is in his second year as head coach of the team and he said his team played well in the one-run loss. He said there were some third-year players on his team that had been on a Lions Club championship team three years ago.
“They did good; in fact, the Lions Club had won the two years prior to Hardee’s and so our third-year students have been in this position before,” Maxwell said. “They knew what was coming and I think they handled it really well.
“We finished the season in first place with a 7-3 record and we came into the tournament playing really well. We just got a little rusty and honestly, we were 10-running every team other than this team. We played Hardee’s close all year; I think all three of our losses to them during the year were by one run. We ran into a couple of line-drive double plays today and that is probably what hurt us in the end.”
In youth baseball, the focus is on trying to give youngsters a fun experience while also teaching them life lessons. In addition, teaching the fundamentals of the game of baseball is highlighted.
“We worked on fundamentals, hitting off a tee, soft-toss, cage, we worked really hard with this group and they got rewarded,” said Rewertz. “It was nice to see.”
Maxwell said youth baseball teaches youth the team aspect of playing together, among other things.
“It is not just one player out here who is going to go out and win a game,” Maxwell explained. “They have to go out as a team and play as a team, and win and lose as a team. Everybody remembers playing youth baseball, and as far as baseball goes these are probably the best years these kids are going to have.”
Rewertz was asked how he feels youngsters benefit by participating in Hibbing Youth Baseball and he said, “We want them to have fun; that’s first and foremost. We come to practice every day, we want them to work hard but we want them to have fun. When you get rewarded for all your hard work like we did tonight, it made it all worthwhile tonight.”