De Soto Wolves hunt down state crown
An area of concern proved to be a savior for the Wolves at the Class A 8-and-younger Kansas State USSSA Baseball Championships in De Soto last weekend.
With the help of a rejuvenated defense and a potent-as-usual offense, coach Mike Mason's team overpowered five opponents on its way to a 5-0 record and the state championship.
"We usually allow other teams to have four or five outs an inning," Mason said of his squad that holds a No. 17 ranking in Kansas. "We had some big hits and some good defensive plays. The boys hit well up and down the lineup. They all fed off of one another."
It could be said, too, that the Wolves fed off of what was at stake. The bragging rights and the hardware that goes along with being crowned state champs seemed to motivate the young ball players to play above their typical level of play.
"We kind of amazed ourselves," Mason said. "These kids play a pretty intense brand of baseball. They are fierce competitors. The guys were diving for balls. They were all excited to be playing in that game. This was a big deal to them."
Mason credited his coaching staff, which includes former Missouri Tiger Brad Hewlett. But he also received a little assistance from some familiar faces in the crowd.
Playing on this year's 8U Wolves team were T.J. Green, son of Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Trent Green, Blaise Gammon, son of Chiefs long snapper Kendall Gammon, and Sam Daly, son of former Kansas City Comets player and Johnson County Community College soccer coach Dan Daly.
"They have been so incredibly supportive," Mason said of the famous dads he had watching his ball club game in and game out. "It's been great to have them around given the support they give the kids. They help out when asked, otherwise they're there for the kids."
The Wolves started their championship run with a pair of pool game wins by a combined 22-0. One of the wins was a 15-0 trouncing of the Butler Grizzlies.
They then bullied their way through the championship bracket with wins over Butler, 18-7, the Blue Valley Red Sox, 15-0, and the Flame Throwers, 16-6, in the championship. In all, Mason's team allowed just 13 runs in five games.
The win over the Flame Throwers was the second time the Wolves bested their Kansas rivals in a championship game this summer. The first meeting was a 13-4 Wolves victory earned in April in the finals of the 3 and 2 state qualifier at the 3 and 2 Baseball Club of Johnson County complex.
In other state baseball action Friday through Sunday in De Soto, the Salina Diamondbacks were crowned baseball champions in the 11-and-younger division while the Lenexa Lightning triumphed in the 12-and-younger bracket.
The Diamondbacks defeated the Fort Scott Tigers by a 7-4 score and bested the Cardinals 7-1 in pool play. Then in championship bracket play, the D-Backs defeated the N.Y. Yankees, 4-2, the Braves, 14-3, and the Cougars, 5-4.
Lenexa fought its way to the top of the 12U bracket by knocking off the Salina Rhinos, 11-4, and the Aeroblast Lazers, 5-1, in pool play. The Lightning received a bye in the quarterfinals thanks to their No. 1 seed following pool play.
The Lightning then finished off the Rhinos again and Wagner's Red Sox, which plays its baseball in the Bonner Springs area, in the championship game.
Next year's state championships could be a lock to return to De Soto, especially if all of the coaches were as impressed as Mason was with the way the De Soto youth baseball organization operated during its third-straight year as a host.
"It was great," the Wolves coach said. "Don Clark did a great job with it. After each game they dragged and chalked the infield. The umpire we had did a great job. It was a first-class event. We never had to wonder who we were playing, or where we had to be. We enjoyed it. The boys had fun. It was a weekend well spent."