For the first time since 1962, Wahpeton has a state champion Babe Ruth team. Playing on their home field, the 14U Wahpeton squad ran the table and secured their title with a 4-2 win over Grand Forks on Sunday, July 23.
“This is obviously a very good baseball team,” Wahpeton coach Chris Kappes said. “They’ve been playing since they were 10 years old. They finished third in state as 10-year-olds, third as 11’s, third as 12’s, we lost in the state championship last year and we ended up winning it this year. We’ve been consistently one of the best teams in the state.”
Wahpeton and Grand Forks had a history coming into the tournament championship. The teams split in the regular season and the players on this year’s Wahp team have fallen to Grand Forks in multiple state tournaments, including last year’s championship.
“They beat us at state a few years and obviously had our number. Before this year I don’t think we ever beat them,” Kappes said. “It’s tough for Wahpeton to compete with the bigger cities. They’re pulling from X amount of kids and if they have a couple kids who don’t develop from year to year, they can pull some other ones in that do. We go to battle every year with the same group of boys. They’re very coachable kids, play the game the right way and it shows with the consistency they’ve had throughout the years.”
After a trio of scoreless innings, Caden Hockert broke the game open with a two-run single just out of the reach of a diving shortstop.
Jackson Fliflet came up with the next RBI, plating Ethan Manock. Just like Hockert’s clutch hit, Fliflet drove in the run with a two-out rip. A reoccurring theme throughout the tournament.
“If you look at the RBIs we had, most of them came on two-out hits,” Kappes said. “For kids to step up in those situations and come up with a big hit like that says a lot. Obviously they couldn’t have come at a better time.”
The final Wahp run came in on a wild pitch to make it a four-run game. Grand Forks put a run on the board in each of the final two innings, but they couldn’t muster enough offense together to even up the score.
Manock, who had pitched in multiple games throughout the tournament, entered the title bout with a limited pitch count. He threw four shutout innings before his fellow lefty Jayden King came in to finish it off. King struck out the final batter of the game and found himself on the bottom of a dog pile shortly after.
“Ethan Manock threw the ball very well for us this whole tournament. We knew where we were at, that he had 44 pitches and he got us through four innings, which is amazing,” Kappes said. “Jayden King comes in and it was a nice change of pace. Jayden does a good job keeping the ball low for the most part. He kept them off balance and got us through the game. Our pitchers have always been consistent with throwing strikes.”
Getting to the final round was no easy feat. After taking down Dickinson, Mandan and West Fargo, North Dakota, in lopsided games, Wahpeton had to take on Jamestown, North Dakota, for a trip to the championship. Trailing 2-1, Manock led off the final inning with a booming triple. Fliflet tied it up with a line drive and after a sac bunt from Gavin Schroeder, King delivered the walk-off with his second RBI hit of the game.
“They stayed in the game. We were down and we weren’t scoring. We had a few hits scattered throughout the game, but other than King’s RBI in the fifth, we didn’t put our bats together in a row,” Kappes said. “In the seventh inning when it mattered the most, that’s when it came through. It was great to see.”
Wahpeton moves on to the Midwest Regional Tournament in Garden City, Kansas.