Wahpeton’s 14U Babe Ruth baseball team didn’t have anything to prove at the World Series. They already knew they belonged in the tournament hosted in Demopolis, Alabama, and even though they didn’t get a win in their four games, they never made it easy for any of their opponents.
“The teams that are here are elite teams. We fall into that category because we made our way here,” Wahpeton coach Chris Kappes said. “There’s no question that we can play with every team here. We just unfortunately had a bad inning every game and it ended up costing us.”
Following a 7-0 loss to Western Alabama in the opening game, Wahp had to square off with one of the top teams in the tourney from Chandler, Arizona. The score was tied 4-4, in the Saturday, Aug. 10 battle, but a bad inning set Wahpeton back in a 15-4 defeat.
“They had a huge inning on us and that’s what kind of did us in that game,” Kappes said. “We’re making mistakes and the other teams aren’t. It’s costing us.”
The next day they took on Jeffersontown, Kentucky. The North Dakota state champs built a 3-0 lead, but another letdown inning led to a 5-4 defeat.
“That’s a game that no question we should’ve won. We ended up having a bad inning with walks and a mental mistake which really hurt us,” Kappes said.
The loss to Jeffersontown kept Wahpeton from advancing out of the pool play division.
“Two of those first three games I think we should’ve won. Even that first game that was a blowout on the scoreboard, it was tied through four innings,” Kappes said. “We can certainly play with every team here. The problem is we’re just making some untimely errors and mental mistakes that we typically don’t make.”
Knowing it was their final game either way, Wahp buckled down to play Broomall-Newton, Pennsylvania, on Monday, Aug. 12. The Middle Atlantic Regional champs jumped out to a 2-0 lead and the score remained that way until the sixth inning of a 4-0 Wahpeton loss.
“It’s another game that we were definitely in and that’s a game we could’ve won today,” Kappes said.
Caden Hockert took the hill and threw four shutout innings. Despite a two-run start from the Pennsylvania team, Hockert made sure the opposing batters were scattering their hits the rest of his outing. He might’ve went the distance if not for three errors behind him.
“Caden Hockert threw a heck of a game. He was locating all his pitches, hitting spots, changing speeds on guys and was really keeping them off-balance,” Kappes said. “We had a couple errors, which hurt us. Those cost him at least 20 pitches on the mound and if he stayed in who knows what happens. It could’ve been a 1-0 game going into that final inning.”
Wahpeton could only muster two hits on the day and their other three base runners wore pitches. In the final inning they had bases loaded and the tying run at the plate, but the team didn’t have another comeback win left in the tank.
“Unfortunately our bats really got hot going into the state tournament and into the regional tournament and they really cooled off here at the World Series,” Kappes said. “That’s a bad time for our bats to go cold, but that’s baseball.”
Despite the lack of offensive production, two of Wahp’s batters were on the top 20 leaderboard for batting average and on-base percentage. Caden Kappes and Ethan Manock continued their hot offensive play and Gavin Schroeder just missed the top 20.
While the trio of offensive leaders led the team at the plate, Jackson Fliflet and Jack Rittenour were defensive standouts on the weekend. Fliflet slid into Rittenour’s catcher position and Rittenour moved to second base.
“Jackson has a little better arm behind the plate and it’s definitely helped shut down their running,” Kappes said. “Jack’s a good enough athlete and we can play him at second base. He’s stepped up and made some plays at second. He’s doing just fine in the field so it’s really nice seeing him adapt to a positional change here in the World Series.”
Kappes expressed the importance of the experience and how they can use it going forward in their baseball careers.
“When this is all said and done, this is the part where we can learn. Our baseball IQ has to get better,” Kappes said. “The good thing is they’re 14 so we have time, but at the same time we don’t have a lot of time. A lot of these guys are going to be done by the time they’re 18 years old. Our window is closing.”
Wahpeton can say they’re one of the top 10 teams in the country at their age level and they’re also the most successful Babe Ruth baseball team to ever come through their hometown. The results of the games weren’t what they hoped for, but they still had an unforgettable experience.
“I think there’s a lot of people who’d love to trade places with us. That’s for sure,” Kappes said.
Not only did they make it to the biggest tournament at their level, they conducted themselves in a way that would make their fans back home proud.
“We’ve represented Wahpeton, North Dakota and the Midwest Plains well down here. People understand our ‘Midwest Nice’ and can tell we’re from up north,” Kappes said. “We just want to thank everybody back home for supporting us, cheering us on and helping us get here. I hope everybody looks forward to watching these guys play baseball over the next four to five years.”