Fighting Squirrels Are Road Warriors

Long Trips No Problem For Missouri Team

The Babe Ruth 16-18 baseball team celebrates after winning the Midwest Plains regional title. Submitted photo

CHARLESTON, Mo. — Long car rides are no fun for anybody.

When you manage 18- and 19-year-old young men, you hope they are in a good mood for most of the trip.

Luckily for Michael Minner, the Charleston Fighting Squirrels couldn’t have been happier when they made the 1,117-mile trek home from Bismarck, North Dakota last week.

The Fighting Squirrels went 3-0 in pool play before beating Williston, North Dakota, 9-3, in the semifinals and Scott County, Iowa, 11-1, in the championship game to capture the Midwest Plains regional title for the second straight year and earn a berth in this week’s Babe Ruth 16-18 World Series in Jamestown.

“Seventeen hours in a car with kids sucks no matter what, whether you win or lose,” Minner said Sunday night. “If you lose that tournament and have to make that drive home with a bunch of hooligans, it’s a long one.”

Charleston is located in the southeast corner of Missouri, close to the borders of Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas.

The Fighting Squirrels were actually just over 300 miles away from the Southwest regionals in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where teams from Arkansas played; just over 350 miles away from the Ohio Valley regionals in Crown Point, Indiana, where teams from Kentucky play, and just under 700 miles away from the Southeast regionals in Fishersville, Virginia, where teams from Tennessee play.

“Alabama’s tournament was like six-and-a-half hours from us, but we don’t want to be in that region,” Minner joked.

Minner added: “We don’t want to be down there with Texas and Alabama. The Rawdogs beat us 2-1 in 2013 to eliminate us and in 2008 during our first year at the World Series.”

Minner had no problem with the long drive, especially considering the result.

The Charleston High School art teacher and athletic director has coached baseball at the school since being hired out of college 16 years ago. His school team won the district championship in 2011 and qualified for the state Final Four, but lost its semifinal game.

Minner started up the Fighting Squirrels summer program 14 years ago, resulting in five World Series appearances at the 16-18 age group.

This year, Charleston will bring a quality team to Jamestown with several college players and commits.

Leadoff hitter Cole Nichols, who has nine home runs this summer, will play center field and be a sophomore at Maplewoods Community College in Kansas City this fall. Maplewoods is the alma mater of one Albert Pujols.

Shortstop Lane Baremore, a Quincy University commit, will bat No. 2 followed by No. 3 hitter Drew Reischman, who started on the mound and won both the state championship and regional championship for the Fighting Squirrels. Heading into his freshman year at Maplewoods CC, Reischman pitched and won the high school state championship game for Oran High School, playing in the smallest classificiation in the state.

Second baseman Turner Fritts, a commit to NCAA Division I Southeast Missouri State University, bats cleanup ahead of third baseman Will Pratt. Left-hander Ronin Rice bats sixth and plays right field.

“Ronin didn’t start on our team last year, but he pitched and won a 3-0 game in one hour and 17 minutes last year,” Minner said. “He played at Lindonwood University-Belleville this year, but transferred to Mizzou and enrolled in their doctor’s program. He’s a bright kid, who came back to finish up his last year of baseball.”

Dallon Stotts or Kasten Campbell will bat in the No. 7 hole depending on who is pitching while catcher Bobby Wright from Crowley’s Ridge College in Paragould, Arkansas bats No. 8. Minner reserves the No. 9 hole in the order for his pitcher.

Other than Reischman and Pratt, other hurdles include Will Ferrell — a 6-foot-8 commit to NCAA Division I Murray State — and 6-foot-3 Breven Yarbro, who will be a senior at Chaffee High School this fall.

“We’ve picked up some good players. We get kids who sometimes come up through the program, who stick around and mature in our program, but we also have kids who have played on some prospects teams and once they sign (with colleges) as seniors, come out and play for us.”

Charleston will open American Division pool play in Jamestown against the Southern Tier host team Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. They will have a bye Sunday before taking on Bakersfield, California on Monday at noon. The Fighting Squirrels’ third game will be Tuesday against Lynn, Massachusetts at 2:30 p.m. followed by a Wednesday game against Northern Fairfax County, Virginia at 5 p.m.

“Our expectations are to win,” Minner said. “We feel like this is a pretty solid group. It’s nice having some guys who have been there.”