KP 14U Team Makes Noise in the World Series
By Christopher Tremblay
Staff Sports Writer
The King Philip 14U baseball team defeated Trumbull, Connecticut to capture the New England Regional Babe Ruth Tournament and in doing so punched their ticket to Williston, North Dakota. King Philip, which is chartered under the Norfolk Baseball Association, was one of ten teams from across the country that qualified to participate in the Babe Ruth World Series.
The King Philip team traveled to North Dakota on Wednesday August 10, took part in the opening festivities on the 12th, and started pool play on the 13th. The eleven-day tournament wrapped up with the crowning of the World Series Champion on the 20th.
The tournament format started with two pools of five teams, with each team playing all the teams in their pool once. The top three teams from each pool moved onto the next round. The top teams from each pool earned a bye while the second and third place teams crossed over into the other pool to take part in the quarterfinals. The winners advanced to the semifinals against the two pool champions with the winners of those games squaring off for the Babe Ruth World Series title.
In pool play, King Philip ran off four straight wins to earn the top seed in the American Division. They opened with a 2-0 shutout of the Ohio Valley champion (Eau Claire, Wisconsin), pounded the host team (Williston, North Dakota) 16-2 in a game limited to five innings, eased past the Middle Atlantic champion (Mifflin County, Pennsylvania) 7-4, and rolled over the Midwest Plains champion (Fargo, North Dakota) 10-4.
In winning their four games, King Philip rode the arm of pitcher Vincent Menendez, who posted two complete 7-inning games, one of them being the shutout in the opener. Menendez and the rest of the pitching staff, combined with timely hitting, solid defense, and good baserunning, made King Philip one of the favorites for the title once the knockout round started.
King Philip’s undefeated pool play record gave them a bye into the semifinals. There they faced the Southeast champion (Tallahassee, Florida), who finished second in the National Division in pool play. After falling behind 3-0 early, King Philip roared back to tie the game and send it to extra innings. In the eighth inning, Tallahassee managed to push across the go-ahead run.
King Philip, however, would not go down without a fight. Once again, they used clutch hitting and good baserunning to tie the game and had the winning run on third before their rally died out. In the ninth, Tallahassee turned a couple of walks and a number of seeing-eye ground balls through the infield to push across six runs and put a stranglehold on the game. King Philip was unable to respond in their half of the inning and fell 10-4, eliminating them from the tournament after a fantastic run. Menendez was once again stellar, pitching 7⅓ innings before the 95-pitch limit forced his removal.
King Philip’s strong play in the World Series was recognized at the completion of the tournament at the awards ceremony. Cole Kotkowski, Charlie Pelkey, and Vincent Menendez were all selected to the All World-Series Team. Not to be left out, Brady Herlin was the lone King Philip representative on the All-Defensive Team. These awards were just another feather in the cap of a tremendous season.
Although the World Series was the ultimate destination, getting there was a journey. “Getting here was absolutely a realistic goal,” manager Matt Pelkey said, before departing for North Dakota. “Showing that last year was no fluke. We are excited about the way that we have played so far, and these kids get along great with one another.” Last year as 13-year-olds, the team won the Eastern Mass championship before bowing out in the semifinals of the regionals.
Making it to the Babe Ruth World Series was special for the KP baseball players. Participating in summer tournament play or the Babe Ruth Tournament allows the teams an opportunity to play outside of their local leagues. Playing outside of the Hockomock League, King Philip was given an opportunity to showcase their talents on a higher level. Having won the Eastern Mass and New England tournaments, KP, which is made up of players from Norfolk, Plainville, and Wrentham, earned the right to represent New England at the World Series. The team was undefeated at 11-0 when they headed to North Dakota for the World Series.
“Playing as KP gives us a sense of pride with that logo on our chest,” Pelkey said. “Coming into tournament play we felt that we had one of the best teams and thus set our expectations high.”
Once KP claimed their spot in North Dakota, the next issue was getting there; financially this was a big trip with a high price tag, so the families needed to produce some cash to get their sons to the World Series. “I am so proud of these boys and the way they embraced the aspect of raising money to get there,” the manager said. “We put on a free baseball clinic in Plainville and the boys went through the parking lot in their uniforms at Gillette Stadium before the Elton John concert collecting donations.”
Joining Pelkey on the coaching staff were Jeff Kotkowski and Bill Dowling. The King Phillip roster was made up of 13 tri-town athletes that include Brady Herlin, Cameron Munsinger, Cole Kotkowski, Charlie Pelkey, Cormac Janssen, Johnny Prater, Landon Keays, Leo Dowling, Nick Galdo, Ryan Brown, Ryan Weihrauch, Vincent Menendez, and Zach Gebhard.
Taking on teams in North Dakota that no one knows anything about put a lot of pressure on the coaches to produce game plans and a pitching rotation to get through the pool play while finishing in the top three. “We’ve been spending so much time on our travel plans and logistics we haven’t really had the time to do much game planning on the opposition,” Pelkey said, before departing. “We’re pretty much flying blind as we go into the tournament, but I honestly think that we are playing good baseball and will be able to finish in the top three of our pool to advance.”
Pelkey’s pre-World Series assessment proved correct, as King Philip ended up being all that and more, coming agonizingly close to a berth in the championship game. While the result was not what they had hoped for, these 13 young men have represented King Philip and New England well. It was a special summer, and an experience none of them will ever forget.