Mission Valley Mariners coach Chris Atkinson knows capturing a state title in the Cal Ripken 12-U Montana State baseball league is no small feat.
The Cal Ripken League showcases the most talented baseball players in the age group for the region, state, and in some cases, the country. Atkinson’s Mission Valley Mariners’ 12-U team will now compete in a completely different classification after capturing the Montana State 12-U Cal Ripken crown.
The M’s toppled two-time defending Montana state champions Kalispell to capture the 12-U crown, and did so in dramatic fashion.
M’s player Tias Fyant’s game-winning home run in the bottom of the sixth inning sealed the deal and allowed the 12-U Mariners a unique opportunity, a chance to play with some of the elite teams in the region.
“When you are competing at state, it’s a whole different skill set,” Atkinson said. “Our team is top-notch, and the north valley team (we faced) is always solid. When you are playing at this level, you can’t afford to make errors to play those teams because it’s going to cost you.”
Before Fyant’s big-time blast, the M’s had homers from Cason Graham, Wyatt Wadsworth, and Kolby Finley in the championship game.
Now that the Mission Valley Mariners 12-U team captured the Montana State title, that is only the start of the next baseball journey for a team currently looking to make it out of the regional competition which begins Thursday in Meridian, Idaho.
Atkinson knows the change in levels will be drastic.
“Now everyone we play is a state champion,” Atkinson said. “We will play the other state champions, and in a single-elimination tournament after that.”
The M’s, who will now play the best team each state has to offer at this point, will have to play fundamentally sound baseball if they hope to advance to the next round of play.
“To keep winning at this level, we have to continue to play fundamental, error-free baseball,” Atkinson said. “We have to continue to play 17 to 18 hours, in the end. We are making a connection, and our parents are helping organize fundraisers. We are just in scramble mode to win something like that, and it’s hard to prepare for.”
Atkinson credits parental involvement as one of the main factors to his team’s success.
“My biggest deal is that I see the boys, and all of the work they do, but they couldn’t have success without their parents dragging them to the tournament after tournament every weekend,” Atkinson said. “I don’t think they can be thanked enough, behind the scenes and up front.”
Though the Cal Ripken World Series isn’t a widely publicized event like the Little League World Series, there are several players with professional aspirations that hone their skills at this level.
The majority of players who play Ripken ball, at the regional level, are exceptional players, according to Atkinson.
“These are 12-year-olds playing at a 17-year-old level,” Atkinson said.
The Mariners will soon find out the caliber of teams they will face in the upcoming regional tournament, as they try to bring home additional hardware.