BOONE — When the Equip under-11 baseball team reached the Cal Ripken World Series tournament in Jensen Beach, Fla., Aug. 3-10, the team’s obvious goal was to win the tournament and bring the championship back with them to Boone.
But coach Sean Burroughs wanted the players and their families to enjoy their stay away from home and the baseball. The team was not close to any tourist sites, so getting to Disney World in Orlando, Fla., or some place similar turned out to be difficult to do.
But that doesn’t mean the players didn’t enjoy their trip to Jensen Beach. Not only did they finish second in the tournament, but the players got to have some time to enjoy themselves away from the pressures of the diamond.
“They kind of kept you busy, which was a good thing,” Burroughs said of the tournament organizers. “The first day was team check-in and the second day was a Babe Ruth experience. They had a media day where they called the kids up there and asked them questions in front of the reporters and so forth. The next day was a warm-up game and then it was a full-play, so our days were we’d play a game, then grab a late lunch somewhere, go back to the hotel and let the kids go to the pool or go to the beach. Then maybe a late dinner and call it a night.”
Finishing second is never anybody’s goal when it comes to baseball, and Equip was no different. But Burroughs recognized that getting that far nationally is an accomplishment and is nothing to forget, although he was still searching his mind as to what he would have done differently.
Even with the loss, Equip qualified for the 2020 tournament finals, which are in Branson, Mo.
“It’s never fun to lose your last game whether it’s in the first round or the last round,” Burroughs said. “To have that taste in your mouth when you finish and all of the boys do and I do too. I keep tying to think of things I would do different to help them out. A play here or a play there probably makes a difference, but once that taste goes away and we can sit back and think about what we did and the run that we had is pretty amazing.”
There were national teams from Hawaii, Montana and the Southwest. There were teams from the Dominican Republic, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Mexico, Canada and Puerto Rico, which played in a separate international bracket.
Equip, one of 30 teams in the tournament, finished second in its pool, which got it into the single-elimination championship bracket. Equip beat Pensacola (Fla.) 11-0 on Aug. 6 in the first pool game and blasted Okeeheelee (Fla.) 17-0 in the second pool game.
Equip beat Pensacola in the opening bracket game and rolled on through the semifinals with a 7-5 win over Flood City, Fla., but lost to Phipps Park 14-3 in the finals. Burroughs said reaching the finals was a big accomplishment and hopes the players will one day realize that.
“These kids are gritty and resilient and feel they should win every game,” Burroughs said. “They don’t care if it’s checkers or if it’s baseball, they want to win. They were disappointed that they lost and we tried to impress upon them how special this was, but at 11 years-old I don’t know if they can truly grasp what they did and what it meant and how rare it is that it happened.”
Burroughs said Equip started the season with a loss in the semifinals of a tournament in Clemmons and then was roughed up in a Charlotte tournament in a travel ball game.
“It was really disheartening the way we got beat down there at the beginning of the season,” Burroughs said. “I think all of that helped build us to where we wanted to go. Our goal was to get to regionals and we got there two years ago in Williamsburg, Va.”
Equip got to the state Cal Ripken tournament by winning its area tournament. To get to the regional tournament, Equip beat rival Southwest Athletics, a team it beat to win the state tournament 4-3 to reach the finals. Equip beat East Rowan 2-1 in the final on an unusual play that saw Equip score two runs on a single passed ball.
“States were a grind, but we got where we wanted to go, which was the regional,” Burroughs said.
Burroughs said Equip played “phenomenally” when it got to the regionals in Wilmington. The next stop was to the World Series.
Burroughs said the team had to hit the fundraising trail to raise enough money to participate in the national finals. Local businesses helped finance the trip, which is a 10-hour drive with no breaks, but generally took the players and their families 12-13 hours to make.
Burroughs said it was not easy for the parents to make the trip, since they had to take time off from their places of employment. Most of the families went early in the tournament and two fathers flew down mid-week to see their sons play.
“It’s challenging,” Burroughs said. “We had a wide range of parents and what they do as far as their employment. I think that goes back to the support of the community. There were a lot of employers who allowed the families to be able to do that.”