By Tony Adams
The stands at the Troy Baseball Complex was loaded with maroon, blue and red jerseys supporting the Belton Cubs and the Belton Rattlers at 2016 Texas Teenage Baseball Association’s District 9 Championship Game last Thursday.
Garrison Lane, one of two of the Cubs aces, scattered four hits and a walk while striking out 13 Rattlers in a 12-4 win.
The Rattlers pressed Lane in the first inning, as Carter Marquis reached first on a catcher’s interference. Nick Driggers hit a liner to right field that was scooped on one hop and fired to second by Reagan Ragsdale to force out Marquis. A triple scored Driggers to put the Rattlers on the board and another single put the Rattlers up by two runs.
The Cubs answered with five runs in the bottom of the first frame, all with two outs. Lane singled and Itty Henry doubled in Lane to put the Cubs on the board. Noah Newman doubled home Henry to tie the game. Ragsdale walked and a balk was called on Rattlers’ starting pitcher Chance Earl, advancing the runners up a base. Grant Baggerly reached base on an error, scoring Henry and Rayford Pete singled in two runs.
Lane settled into a rhythm with Henry behind the plate and struck out the side in the second inning. The Cubs gave Lane additional run support in the second inning, this time with one out. Richie Willess tripled down the leftfield line, setting up Lane’s RBI double to the right centerfield gap. A balk moved Lane to third base. Henry, having been plagued with several injuries in the past month, took a foul ball off of the right cheekbone. He shook off the shock to single in Lane. Newman was hit by a pitch and Ragsdale hit a two-hopper to second that hopped over the second baseman’s glove, scoring Henry and Newman. Baggerly reached base on an error and Pete’s groundout to shortstop scored Ragsdale. The Cubs led 10-2 after two innings.
Lane sandwiched strikeouts around a Driggers single in the top of the third inning. He hit a sharp single down the right field line and attempted to stretch it into a double, but a pinpoint accurate throw from Ragsdale to second base to cut down Driggers.
The Cubs added a run in the bottom of the third on great hustle by Willess with one out. He singled and then took a lead off of first base. An errant pickoff launched Willess into a dead sprint around second and dive into third base on the two-base error. Lane singled in Willess to give he and the Cubs a nine-run barrier, 11-2.
The Rattlers continued to plug away at Lane for any opening they could find in the top of the fourth. After a pair of Lane strikeouts, the Rattlers picked up a walk, an Elliot Hart RBI single and then an error that scored Hart.
The Cub picked up an unearned run in the bottom of the fourth off of a walk, hit batter, two errors and a fielder’s choice to put the advantage back at eight runs, 12-4.
After a slick fielding play by Willess at shortstop, Lane fanned the next two batters. The Cubs loaded the base in the fifth inning with two outs, but Earl pitched his way out of the jam.
Lane struck out two of the final four batters that he faced to close out the ballgame.
“I thought I did pretty good,” Lane said. “The curveball was working and my fastball was pretty good.”
The chemistry between Lane and Henry was apparent, as a steady mix the fastball, curveball and change up kept the Rattlers off-balance in the box for the final five innings.
“It helps that I know Itty so well,” Lane said. “We go way back with us both catching and pitching (to each other). It’s always good to have that chemistry.”
With having seen the Rattlers before, both playing for and against them in a couple of different levels of BYBA play, the game plan of going directly at the Rattlers’ hitters and not working backwards helped control pitch count and efficiency.
“Since I know the hitters and what their tendencies are, I can tell what they are going to do or what they will struggle at hitting,” Lane said.
Cubs’ head coach Tia McKee had to make the tough decision before the game of giving the ball to Lane or Henry for the championship game. She opted to go with Lane and the choice worked.
“It was going to be either Garrison or Itty,” Henry said. “Both have pitched well this season and I decided to go with Garrison. They both have different styles (Henry is a fastball first pitcher and Lane is a finesse pitcher with a biting fastball that gets more intimidating as the game goes one). He and Itty have a great chemistry and you have to have a really great catcher behind the plate, especially against the Rattlers. They run the bases extremely well. I knew that Garrison would be more comfortable with Itty back there and be able to pitch at his best.”
McKee has an uncanny ability to get the most out of her team and continues to be one of the more successful BYBA coaches over the past several years.
“This team is absolutely amazing,” McKee said. “From day one to this day, their best qualities have been play as a team all the way through. They keep each other up and never give up on themselves. That’s what brought us all the way here. We have a lot of talent on the team. But most of it is just the way that they play as a team for one another.”
McKee, the former BYBA president, is taking her second team in the past three years to the Texas Teenage Baseball Association state tournament. Two years ago, she took the 10U Belton A’s to Emory and had success. In 2016, she has six of those members on her Cubs team.
“They were very talented then,” McKee said, of the growth of her former A’s players. “They have grown so much in sportsmanship, maturity and talent. They are becoming great young men and so blessed to have them on my team again, along with the other kids on my team. It has helped us get this far.”
Henry has fought through a couple of injuries in the past month that would have sidelined the typical 12 or 13-year old. Being Henry’s mother first and baseball coach second, McKee has worried about his health in both aspects. But Henry is a tough kid and there wasn’t going to be anything to keep him from playing.
“At the Belton Invitational Tournament, he fought through a back injury and fought hard,” McKee said. “Two weeks ago, he fractured his toe in his growth plate. He told me that he wanted to play. He did everything he needed to do and take the necessary steps to get himself healed to come to play in this tournament and fight with his team. As a mom and a coach, you want him well and you want him to play well. It was an easy decision for him to want to play and wanted to be there for his team. He’s fought through soreness and pain. He just did it. I am so proud of him and I know that he is proud of himself that he cares so much about this game and his teammates.”
Lee Shannon’s Rattlers team played hard and fought out of the loser’s bracket to get to the championship game. The Cubs success didn’t come easily, especially pushed to the brink by a talented team such as the Rattlers.
“The Rattlers are an amazingly fantastic team,” McKee said. “They are loaded with talent and are a young team. They have a great group of coaches. If it wasn’t going to be us going to state, I would loved for it to be them. They have a great bunch of guys and I love them all. They have so much talent and have worked their butts off all season to get here, in the preseason tournament, the regular season tournament, the Belton Invitational and here at district. Even when they were down and had to fight through a game, they are just a super ball club and glad they were on the field with us tonight.”
One thing unique about BYBA fans that most organizations don’t have is the support for both teams by each other’s fans. The backstop area was completely engulfed with people, not only Cubs’ and Rattlers’ fans, but Belton fans in general. The sportsmanship, high baseball IQ and support that Belton fans give their youth sports is a level hard to match. They completely understand that members of both teams go to school together and are great friends off of the field.
“The stands were completely packed by Belton fans and fans from other teams,” McKee said. “Our fans and BYBA board members were all here to support both of our teams. All of the cheering was for both sides. That completely exemplifies what sportsmanship is. Because both teams have great kids, they like and respect each other and they picked each other up. You could see that after the game. It was a great game without negativity. A lot of love from the fans and the Belton people.”
The members of the Belton Cubs are: Jay Baker, Ian Gardner, Joshua Grymes, Bryan “Itty” Henry, Nathaniel Holmes, Brady Johnson, Wesley Kincaid, Garrison Lane, Chase Moore, Noah Newman, Gage White and Richie Willess.
The members of the Belton Rattlers are: Nick Driggers, Chance Earl, Hunter Hanusch, Elliot Hart, Casey Hart, Carter Marquis, Jose Ramirez, Matthew Ramos-Mendez, Joshua Ramos Jr., Jeffrey Shelton, Cayden Stringfellow, Wriley Madden, Dylan Russell and Waylon Floyd.