Midwest Premier Baseball | U.S. Premier Baseball Tournaments
WISCONSIN DELLS, Wis. – On a warm and sunny weekend serving as the unofficial kickoff to summer in state of Wisconsin, the Missouri Gators and MN Icemen won the championships at the Midwest Premier Baseball 13u Classic and 14u Classic. The events also kicked off the 2021 schedule for Midwest Premier Baseball and U.S. Premier Baseball Tournaments, with these two events being held at the Woodside Sports Complex outside of the Wisconsin Dells.
The Missouri Gators, coached by John Lord, are a member of the Gators Baseball Academy based just outside of St. Louis. They traveled nearly 500 miles north to be a part of this 15-team event in the middle of the Dairy State.
On their path to the championship, the Gators went 3-0 in pool play, but it wasn’t an easy road. They beat their first opponent, the Pro Player Canes, by just one run (9-8), before taking down Northstar Jakubowski and Iowa Sticks-Red by scores of 8-5 and 9-6.
In the semifinals against Perfect Timing, things got even more interesting, as the Gators were down at one point in time 12-4. They stormed back with a 13-run top of the fourth inning that propelled them to an eventual 17-14 win.
It also put them in the championship game.
“It’s a good group and that’s what they do,” said John Lord, head coach of the Missouri Gators 13u squad. “They play hard [and] they don’t give up. They do the little things the right way and they’re always trying to learn the game and it showed this weekend.”
In the title game they squared off against Building Champions and enjoyed a more convincing 9-4 victory, although the game was closer than that entering the seventh and final inning. In that frame the final blow was delivered, a two-run, ground-rule double that effectively put the game out of reach. A scoreless bottom of the seventh secured the victory and the championship at the 2021 Midwest Premier Baseball 13u Classic.
“We played five games and obviously went 5-0 and won it,” Lord added. “We were losing at one point in four of the five games, so we came from behind in just about every single one. The one we didn’t at the end the [other] team made a run and made it pretty close. Overall all weekend it was a battle with every team and the kids played hard.”
On the 14u side of things, the MN Icemen were one of five teams that went 4-0 against their pool play opponents and were seeded third heading into bracket play after scoring 41 runs and allowing 11 in their four pool play contests.
It was also a complete, team effort for Icemen, as every single person on the roster played a big role in the team achieving their championship.
It started with a dramatic finish as the team used five singles and a sac bunt to score three runs in the final inning, overcoming a 4-2 deficit to win 5-4.
In the playoffs, their semifinal contest against the No. 2 playoff seed, Building Champions Shelton, was the thriller. In this game the Icemen had the upper hand going into the sixth, but with two strikes and two outs Building Champions hit a two-run triple to tie the game. Due to time limit rules the game entered the seventh inning as an “extra” inning, meaning a runner was placed on second base to open the frame and the batters began their plate appearance with a 1-1 count.
The Icemen were able to squeeze across a run in the top of the seventh, slamming the door in the bottom of the frame, to advance.
After a sluggish start in the championship game, falling behind early by three runs, the team rallied with an eight-run third inning, ripping the ball all over the park. The Icemen tacked on another run later and the pitching settled down to finish the 9-3 win over the Osseo Maple Grove Storm while winning the 2021 Midwest Premier Baseball 14u Classic.
“It was honestly a complete, team effort,” MN Icemen head coach Joe Eckerle said about his team’s championship performance. “There was a different hero every game. Everybody but one kid pitched so 11 out of 12 guys threw at least an inning. We hit 12 guys all weekend, we didn’t shorten the bench, so it was a flat-out team effort.
“What a great tournament. The boys from top to bottom did their jobs, [they] won four games on a Sunday – we’ll remember this one for a while.”
For as good as any championship feels, two of the larger takeaways each program had focused on the quality of the facilities as well as the quality of the opponents. Both teams are committed to the greater good of the players, which means their appreciation for the game and their individual development takes priority over wins and losses, although winning and losing also plays a role in development.
Playing time, instruction and competition are all assets used to accomplish those goals.
“As a program with the Missouri Gators, that’s what we preach, development,” Lord said. “Winning is obviously a part of any development, but so is losing. Developing better athletes, developing better young men.
“That’s what this weekend was. … That’s our goal, if we can go play close games and have our boys play with their backs against the wall a little bit and learn to compete I think it helps them develop as baseball players and as people as they get older.”
The MN Icemen 14u team, like the Missouri Gators at the 13u age division, came to Wisconsin looking for challenging games against teams with a similar high-degree of talent. They got just that.
“Our priority was to play good baseball teams [at an] awesome facility,” Eckerle said. “We saw the list of teams that would be there, we knew there would be a lot of good baseball games, we knew the facility was awesome and that’s what we were looking for.”