|The Verde Valley 11-12 All-Stars gather together following its 9–2 loss to Santa Rita, as the coaches talk to their team. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Mathe|
|Chris Mathe stands on second base and claps for his teammates during the Verde Valley All-Stars’ 17–6 loss to Chandler. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Mathe|
The Verde Valley 11-12 All-Star team advanced to the state tournament by coming back and beating Prescott in an almost perfect defensive showing, after losing to Prescott the day before, to win District 10.
Unfortunately, at the state tournament, the boys were not able to rebound after their first loss, with errors taking their toll on the team, and dropped back-to-back games to Chandler National South, 17-6, and Santa Rita, 9-2, eliminating them from the bracket.
"We played Friday night, we lost that game against Chandler, (and) then we had to come back Saturday morning at 8:30 and play," Verde Valley head coach Chris Taylor said. "I don't know if they were just trying to regroup and pick up their long faces, so to speak, or lick their wounds from their loss and try to come back, but they just didn't seem like they were into it that morning.
The boys experienced a snowball effect caused from the errors, Verde Valley committed seven over the two games, and the level of competition. As Taylor explains it, every time a fly, or ground, out was missed, it added pressure to the pitcher to throw more strikes in hopes of striking the batter out. Once this happens, it can be trying for a coach to attempt to bring his players back and get them to hold their heads up.
"Sometimes its very difficult," Taylor said. "The problem is, there's errors made in that type of tournament, where there are good teams, and those types of teams, its not going to be strike out after strike out. The pitchers are going to be pitching the best they can, and their job is to hopefully get them to strike out, but until then that happens on this level of play, their job is to fly out, or get them to ground out ... when we don't get an out when we should, then it hurts us in our pitching. I notice, when a pitcher has got their head down, because they had to pitch more and try and put it on their shoulders, thinking in terms of, 'well, if the defense isn't there to help me, then I have to try and strike this guy out.' So then it kind of snowballs from there. It's hard sometimes to get them all together. Call a time out and say 'hey, let's play together, it's alright ... lets try and regroup here and get some outs here.'"
It was not all doom and gloom for the boys. In fact, for two members of the team, Chris Mathe and Chaz Taylor, the state tournament marked an achievement not many people can say they have earned. The 2013 tournament was their fourth state tournament they attended as all-stars, and fourth time they won their district. Both Mathe and Taylor were a part of 2012's 11-12 team, and they went both years as part of the 9-10 team.
"They were able to win district four years in a row, that doesn't happen to often, for both of them," the elder Taylor said. "And for the other boys, a lot of them, it was an experience that quite a few of them had in the past, where they were on the team in years past, whether it be in the 9-10-year-olds, or actually most of the others it was the 9-10-year-olds. Chaz, and Chris Mathe, they were the only ones that were on the 11-12-year-olds last year that went to state, but 9-10, there was quite a few that had the opportunity to go to state that year also."
One thing that Verde Valley was able to establish during its run at the district level was a strong offense. In the five games played at the district tournament, Verde Valley scored 54-runs, including 23 against Bagdad. In the team's two games at state, they were only able to notch 8-runs, with six coming in their first game. Through the two tournaments, three Verde Valley players had over a .400 batting average. Justin Tanner led the team with a .476, Mathe averaged a .409 and Kendrew Streck hit an even .400.
At state, Mathe and Tanner led Verde Valley with a double, and two RBI's, and Tyre Kim hit two singles and one RBI against Chandler. But the following day against Santa Rita, Mathe, Taylor and Trevor Hoke only recorded one single. Streck notched two.
"We weren't (hitting)," Taylor said. "Honestly, against Santa Rita ... against Chandler, they had some better pitching, against Santa Rita; we should have been hitting the ball off of this pitcher. I'm not sure why we weren't, if it was just a matter of them coming back (from the previous game)."
Taylor was hoping his team was going to be able to rebound for the game against Santa Rita, especially with Santa Rita talking trash the night before.
"Some of these kids, the night before, from Santa Rita, were talking smack to some of our kids and we just told them, 'hey, don't listen to them. We'll show them out on the field,'" Taylor said. "Unfortunately, that didn't happen, that we beat them. I would have really liked to have beaten them and have them be quiet about the small talk with our kids. Our kids didn't talk back, and again, I appreciated the sports that they were."
Win or lose, that was always one of Taylors goals for his players, that they develop sportsmanship and are able to learn things to help them in the future.
"Oh, I always stressed that, because it is important. Baseball is a game, and life is kind of like baseball. It's a game where, we're going to have ups and downs through life, and ... that teaches the boys the responsibility of life," Taylor said. "They may have rough things in their life, and they may have kids say things to them, but how they accept that, and how they deal with that, that's what's more important than the actual game. How they are on the field with being good sports, that builds a lot of character for each one of these young boys, and that's what I tried to stress the whole year, that this will build good character. Win or lose, what matters is you gave it your best, and what matters is how each one of them are after the game and that they're good sports after the game."
With the season over for Verde Valley, Taylor had a good time as he finished his eighth year involved with little league (he spent four years coaching his older son T.J.), and is very happy about how the young players on the team developed over the season.
"I enjoyed it. Like I told the kids, these boys, after our loss against Santa Rita, I would take them any day over some of the other teams," Taylor said. "Our team was really good sports about everything and they, even though they were saddened by the loss, they still hung their heads up high and were proud of going to represent the Verde Valley, and I was proud of each one of them for how they represented the Verde Valley, and themselves."