Mission Valley Mariners manager Tim Rausch admitted he wasn’t sure what his team’s full potential was when they began the season.
Rausch, whose team concluded its season at the American Legion Montana State baseball tournament with a 1-2 record, knew his team had potential but wasn’t sure quite what his young team’s capabilities were as they entered the season with a total of 20 players for both the A and B teams.
“If you had told me at the beginning of the season that we would make it to state, I think I would have told you ‘we have a chance,’ and I think now having said that it was surreal that we were able to do it,” Rausch said. “I could not have asked for a better season from these boys. They did a lot of maturing, both physically and mentally, and our team learned a lot about the game. We had a great group of boys that did a lot of growing together, and to be able to grow together as teammates, that is pretty special.”
Rausch, who is attempting to rebuild the Mission Valley Mariners’ program to the height and expectations they achieved under former M’s coach Jamie Hanson, who was chosen to carry on legendary Mission Valley softball coach Larry Smith’s softball program, admits his team has progressed faster than expected.
In Rausch’s second season, his team will return 11 of the 12 current players from the American Legion state-qualifying team of 2019, hopes to build on his team’s momentum.
“You know I think they’ve improved, especially at the end of the season,” Rausch said. “Our younger kids not only played A, but they went down and played those B games. The season was a grinder between A and B, and (a lot of our players) must have played 80-something games on the road. Our team played baseball every single day with no breaks to do any kid stuff, but that allowed us to go over the top, and make it to the state tournament this year.”
The Mission Valley Mariners’ success started with the consistent expectations Rausch established for the team when he first took over as the M’s manager.
“For me, we had two years of heightened expectations for these kids,” Rausch said. “We came into our first year, and these kids not only embraced the grind of playing both A and B, but they also embraced huge expectations. There wasn’t a lot of fun but our kids didn’t feel hurt, and pushed through the heightened expectations. (Our kids) matured so much during the season, and I couldn’t be happier with our group of boys after this season.”
Experience a new level
Getting to experience the intensity of the American Legion state-level tournament was an eye-opening experience for this young Mission Valley Mariners team, according to Rausch.
American Legion baseball, at the state level, consists of several players who are being looked at by the NJCAA (Junior College), NAIA, NCAA Division I, II, and III, and even some prospective candidates for the 2020 Major League Amateur Draft.
“At the state level, you expect to play high-level competition during every game,” Rausch said. “In some of our games, one mistake ended up being the difference between winning and losing the game.”
Playing to their capacity
Despite being eliminated by the Bitterroot Bucs with a 9-8 loss in the consolation bracket Monday afternoon in Florence, the team played the to maximum of their ability level, according to Rausch.
“It was a good tournament,” Rausch said. “In the American Legion state games, you expect it to be good competition, and an inning can be the difference between winning and losing at the state level. The Bucs kept punching back, even after we took an 8-5 lead. Neither team wanted to go home, so they just kept swinging the sticks and making plays. It is too bad one of these teams had to go home.”
From the start of the season until the end of the season, Rausch said one commonality the Mission Valley Mariners team embraced was accepting their roles.
“Each kid (on our team) seem to play a special role, and whether it was pinch-running or pinch-hitting, our kids embraced the role and did what they were asked to do,” Rausch said. “Our team trusted each other to get the job done. That helped us win the district, and we had a pretty good state showing.”
The Mission Valley Mariners got to experience some of the best states’ and regional baseball talent, which continues to improve each and every year, and according to Rausch, the ability level of the players at the tournament is a showcase of what the Montana baseball player can achieve.
The Montana athlete, stigmatized over the years because of lack of competition and weather, not climate conducive for baseball, is just as active as any other baseball prospect, according to Rausch.
“Any scout or college recruiter can see how amazing and humble the athletes we have here are,” Rausch said. “A lot of kids want to go and play college football and that is such a big sport in Montana. Often they overlook baseball, and playing baseball is a great opportunity. You can get out there, and play baseball at the college level. There is no doubt over half of our players are capable of going out and playing college ball.”
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