Just two teams in the 30-team field in last week’s Premier Baseball Senior Championships used wood bats throughout the week.
They were the last two teams standing.
In the end, the Midwest Nationals 18-and-under team earned the national title, topping the Bayside (N.Y.) Yankees 2-1 in Sunday’s final at Meador Park.
The title was a culmination of a run by a close-knit group that has played together for much of high school.
“We all meshed as a group; we’ve been best friends for a couple years now,” said recent Kickapoo graduate Chandler Hall, who will play at Louisiana Tech next year. “It’s been great just watching all the guys grow up and get better. All of us have developed into elite players.”
The Nationals have built a strong foundation of producing professional talent, and some of that talent is now giving back.
Alumnus Scott Elbert (Seneca) of the Los Angeles Dodgers has donated about 60 bats, and other current minor leaguers such as Matt Lawson (Carl Junction) and Seth Conner (Rogersville) also have brought wood back to the next batch of Nationals prospects.
“It’s a better teaching tool to hit,” Nationals coach Randy Merriman said. “A lot of these guys are going to college baseball and fall teams are going to use wood. And we’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of professional baseball players.”
The program, established in 2001, has had 52 alumni drafted in 11 years.
This year’s championship ended the summer for the Nationals Blue team, which is one of two 18-and-under teams in the program and four teams that played in the event. All four teams made the championship round.
The Blue team finished its summer 46-12 despite losing two players to professional baseball in the summer. Ryder Jones of Stillwater, Okla. signed with San Francisco after being drafted in the second round last month, and Carthage’s Drew Bridges played most of the summer with the Nationals, but left to sign with the New York Yankees this month after being selected in round No. 20.
The late loss of Bridges could have hurt, but the team moved on without its closer/third hitter with style.
“Usually we lose the draft guys right out of the gate, but we got comfortable with him in the three hole,” Merriman said. “Kids just stepped up.”
One was Bradley University signee Evan Gruener of Rogersville, who took Bridges’ spot in the middle of the order.
But the key for Sunday’s semifinal and final victories was pitching and defense, Merriman said.
Samuel Jones of Columbia threw a complete-game shutout in the semifinal, and Monett’s Aaron Patton, Nixa’s Blade Keller and Oak Grove’s Conner Matson combined to hold the Yankees to one run in the finals.
The program’s two 17-and-under teams will compete this week in the Premier tournament in Joplin, which begins Wednesday.