Why change something when it’s worked all along?
Clifton Park head coach Tom Huerter doesn’t intend to when his streaking Knights take part in the Babe Ruth World Series for 14-year-olds in Moses Lake, Wash.
Clifton Park will be among 10 participating teams in the event, which begins Saturday with pool games at Larson Playfield and runs through the following Saturday.
“We’ve got a lot of pitching, and we’re going to use it,” said Huerter. “We want to make it through the pool round without having a kid throw more than 50 pitches in a day.”
Clifton Park has used a by-committe pitching approach throughout the season. In Eastern New York Tournament and Middle Atlantic Regional Tournament sweeps, seven different Knights saw mound duty over 11 games, and none of them went the distance.
During one stretch, the Knights combined for six shutouts in seven games.
“We split up games to keep everybody fresh. That was by design, and the formula has worked for us,” said assistant coach Bob Anderson, whose twin sons Ian and Ben compete for Clifton Park. “The last couple of years, maybe we burned out the top of the rot-ation guys a little bit.”
Huerter said that was the case last summer when, as 13-year-olds, the Knights lost to a Metro New York team in the Middle Atlantic Regional Tournament semifinals.
“Two kids were injured. The four other kids had sore arms,” he said. “We had no arms. We’ve learned from the past.”
“Last year, we ran out of pitching in the end,” said Ian Anderson, a pitcher and second baseman. “The idea was if we split it up, we’ll have fresh arms for the big games.”
Any combination of Anderson, Michael Jeffers, John Cady, Kurt Forsell, Mike Spulnick, Kevin Huerter and Marty McCrudden may be called on when Clifton Park makes its second World Series
appearance in three years.
Clifton Park has pool games against Bryant, Arkansas (Southwest Region), Jasper, Indiana (Ohio Valley Region), host Moses Lake and Baxter Springs, Kansas (Midwest Plains Region) before the semifinal round.
“Most of them have been together since they were 8 years old. When they were 12, they got to the Cal Ripken World Series,” said Bob Anderson. “Back then, they hit the ball all over the park. Since we moved to the bigger [major league size] park, pitching has been more of our strength.”
The Clifton Park staff was sharp in the tournament sweeps leading up to the World Series. Clifton Park allowed 16 hits and three runs in going 6-0 at the Middle Atlantic
Regional Tournament, which it hosted. At the Eastern New York Tournament beforehand, the Knights surrendered 14 hits and four runs en route to a 5-0 record.
“We can go six, seven deep, and that’s huge when you play four pool games in four or five days,” said Anderson. “Through the years, the kids kept developing. The quality is there right down the line.”
Ian Anderson went six innings before Cady — the team’s lone lefty — finished up when Clifton Park beat North Colonie, 6-1, to clinch the Middle Atlantic championship on Aug. 5. Jeffers went six innings and Cady closed it out in the semi-final game before that, a 7-0 blanking of Kingston. The six-inning stints were the most by any of the staff members in the two tournaments.
“There have been a couple of keys,” said Ben Anderson, Clifton Park’s catcher. “All of our pitchers have more than a fastball, and they’ve been getting ahead in the count, which is huge. And when they have gotten behind, they’re confident enough to go with something off-speed.”
Ian Anderson, Kevin Huerter and Jeffers joined on a one-hitter when Clifton Park beat North Colonie, 5-0, to secure the Eastern New York title. When Clifton Park made its debut in the Middle Atlantic tourney, Anderson, Huerter and Spulnick pieced together another one-hitter in a 6-0 shutout of Prince George, Maryland.
“When you go with different pitchers, batters don’t know what’s coming,” said Tom Huerter. “Ian throws over the top, and 60, 65 percent of his pitches are fastballs. Kevin goes three-quarters and uses three pitches a lot. What we’ve done has kept the guys fresh and kept the other teams off balance.”
“It makes it tough for the other teams because we all offer different things,” said Ian Anderson, who earned three wins at the Middle Atlantic event. “We feel great about our pitching.”
Strong defense complemented the pitching during Clifton Park’s run to the World Series.
“Our defense has been very good. As good as our pitching,” said Tom Huerter. “We haven’t had a game with more than one error.
“As talented as they are, they’re very hard workers,” he added. “We are consistently the last team off the field at the Common. It’s a lot of repetition, and they embrace it.”
“Every day in practice each kid gets 50 ground balls. The outfielders get a lot of work, too,” said Kevin Huerter, who plays shortstop when not on the mound. “Come game time, we’re confident.”
Clifton Park’s biggest World Series concern is getting enough runs to back its pitching and defense.
“When we were younger, everyone could hit a home run any time they were up,” said Kevin Huerter. “It’s not like we’re 12 any more. We’ve got to put a couple of hits together. When we get guys on, we’ve got to get them over. Use our speed.”
Clifton Park scored at least six runs in every game but one at the Middle Atlantic tourney. In its only close call, Ben Anderson’s RBI single in the fifth snapped a tie and gave Clifton Park a 3-2 win over Washington Township of New Jersey.
“At the end of the regional, we were putting up some good numbers, and that helps the confidence,” said Ian Anderson. “Hopefully, the bats will come alive, and we’ll win some games.”
“It’s hard to manufacture runs when you get to the highest level. We don’t expect the other teams to walk a lot of batters and give much away,” said Tom Huerter. “When you get guys on base, you’ve got to get that key hit. That’s what these games often come down to — who gets the key hit. If we can score some runs, I think we’ll be okay.”
Clifton Park’s World Series hopes ended two years ago with a loss to Hawaii in the United States semifinals after the Knights went 3-1 in pool play.
“When we were 12, we were a little overwhelmed by the big stage,” said Kevin Huerter. “Going there for the second time, we’re going there thinking we can win this. Our mindset is different. We’re more mature now.”
Clifton Park has lost only three times this season with a roster that also includes Justin Geary, Payton Johnson, Nik Malachowski, Logan Ryan and Matt Straney. Mike Spulnick and Mike Jeffers are the other assistant coaches.
“I just hope we play well. If we do and another team beats us, we’ll give them credit,” said Tom Huerter. “The only disappointing scenario will be if we don’t play well.”
Niskayuna will be competing in the Babe Ruth World Series for 13-year-olds in Williston, North Dakota, begining Saturday.