A team from Branson was granted an automatic berth into this year’s Cal Ripken Major/70 World Series at Ballparks of America.
The area all-star team joined 19 of the top baseball teams of 12-year-old players from across the country – plus nine international teams – at the nine-day tournament that will crown champions from the U.S. and the world on Saturday.
If there was any doubt going in about whether the Branson team would be able to hold its own in the prestigious competition, there isn’t any now.
Branson shrugged off some weather complications in its first game and a lackluster loss in its first completed game to win two of its first three games.
Following Sunday’s play, Branson is 2-1 in Pool D of the U.S. field, one game behind the team from Flood City, Pennsylvania, and in good shape for the start of bracket play on Wednesday.
“They’re ready for it,” Branson coach Nick Schafer said on Saturday. “Some of them have played together, but for the most part they are on other teams playing against each other. I’d go to battle with any of the 15.
“I’m looking forward to seeing who is going to step up. It seems like it’s always somebody new. We played just a handful of tuneup games, and everybody stepped up at some point or another and had their time.”
Branson’s game on the opening night of the tournament on Friday was ended up water-logged and delayed to Saturday night.
A steady and persistent rain delayed the start of the game against Ohio Valley (Newburgh, Indiana), and the game was finally called with Branson trailing 1-0 in the fifth inning.
When the game picked back up on Saturday night, Branson answered the bell, scoring two fifth-inning runs while keeping Ohio Valley’s bats in check, for a 2-1 victory.
Hudson Roberts opened the fifth with a single and Parker Elliot reached on a dropped third strike. The runners advanced on a groundout, then Roberts scored on a passed ball.
Elliot scored the eventual winning run on a Gannon Miller RBI single to left field.
Branson reliever Braiden LaMontagne retired Ohio Valley in order in the sixth inning, two of the outs coming on strikeouts.
That victory split over two days became even more vital for Branson’s bracket-play positioning because of what happened earlier Saturday, when Branson dropped a 3-1 game to Ohio Valley.
Branson came out of the gate quickly, with Conner Rogers walking to lead off the game, then stealing second base, going to third on a sacrifice and soring when Garrett Cook scored on an error.
That gave the host squad a 1-0 lead, but it was about all of the offense it would muster.
Braxton Gross belted a one-out double in the second and Rogers added a one-out single in the third, but both were stranded by Pennsylvania starter Justin Wysong.
Wysong retired 14 of the final 17 hitters he faced, giving up only the two hits and hitting a batter.
Pennsylvania took advantage of some wildness by the Branson starter to take the lead. Two walks and three hit-batters, plus a pair of timely hits, allowed Pennsylvania to score one run in the first and two in the second.
The damage could have been worse, but Branson turned an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in the first, then picked a runner off first base to end the second.
Elliot helped keep Branson in the game, coming on in relief and working the final three innings. Elliot issued a leadoff walk in the third, then retired the final nine hitters he faced, striking out three.
“Parker Elliot was not in the starting lineup,” Schafer said. “You’ve got 15 kids and only 10 are playing. He could have sat in the corner and pouted, but he put his big-boy pants on and he shut them down.
“He gave us a chance, and you can’t ask for anything other than that.”
Schafer downplayed the distraction of having his team’s opening game being split into two parts, with a late and rainy night, as having an impact on the Pennsylvania game.
“That’s an excuse, and we don’t make excuses,” Schafer said. “They were just the better team today, and I’d love to have the chance to play them again.”
One bright spot for Branson was the play of leadoff hitter Conner Rogers, who had a hit, reached base twice and scored the team’s only run.
“I’m starting to get back in the groove of things,” Rogers said. “I was in a slump for a little bit.
“We’re starting to gel together. We just need to get the bats rolling and we’ll be good.”
Rogers admitted to wondering how his team would stack up against some of the best Babe Ruth League teams in the U.S. and internationally.
“I was a little curious, to see how good these other teams would be and how we would compete,” he said.
“This is a great experience, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Branson flexed its muscle in Sunday’s pool-play game, a 13-4 victory over Oregon.
Branson pounded out 17 hits, with Wyatt Vincent going 4-for-4 from the leadoff position, scoring four runs, adding a triple and home run and driving in two runs.
Garretson Cook added two hits and drove in two runs, Dominic Licata had two hits, Caeden Cloud had two hits and drove in two runs and Hunter Jones had two hits and scored twice.
Branson took control early and never trailed, scoring one first-inning run and adding two in the second to take a 3-0 lead. Three fourth-inning runs made it a 6-0 game, and after Oregon scored four in the home half of the fourth to make it a 6-4 game, Branson put the game away in the late innings.
Branson scored two in the fifth and added five more in the sixth to end any thoughts of an Oregon comeback.
Two Branson pitchers combined to hold Oregon to four runs on seven hits. Starter Cook went four innings, with Aiden Wallace working two innings of scoreless, one-hit relief.
The victory sent Branson into Monday night’s pool-play finale against the Pacific Southwest team with a 2-1 record, one game behind Pennsylvania and one game ahead of Ohio Valley. Oregon and Pacific Southwest each were 0-2.
Branson was scheduled to be off on Tuesday before the start of bracket play on Wednesday. The tournament continues through the championship round on Saturday, with games at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.
CAL RIPKEN MAJOR/70 WORLD SERIES AT BALLPARKS OF AMERICA
POOL A US
Middle Atlantic (East Fishkill, New York), Southwest (Matthews Park, Alabama), North Carolina (Raleigh), North Dakota (Fargo), Florida (Palm Beach Gardens)
POOL B US
New England (West Hartford, Connecticut), Southeast (Winter Park, Florida), Hawaii (Oahu), New York (North Colonie), Missouri (Mineral Area)
POOL C US
Midwest Plains (SE Denver, Colorado), Pacific Northwest (Meridian, Idaho), Alabama (Daphne), Kentucky (SE Lexington), Massachusetts (Freetown-Lakeville)
POOL D US
Ohio Valley (Nerburgh, Indiana), Pacific Southwest (Hanford, California), Oregon (Willamette Valley), Pennsylvania (Flood City), Branson
POOL E INTERNATIONAL
New Zealand, Japan, Canada, Curacao, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Republic of Korea, Bahamas
P1: Southeast 5, New York 4
P2: Pennsylvania 1, Oregon 0
P3: Japan 6, Dominican Republic 3
P4: Midwest Plains 12, Alabama 8
P5: North Carolina 5, Southwest 0
P6: Kentucky 6, Pacific Northwest 3
P7: New Zealand 7, Canada 3
P8: Florida 10, North Dakota 4
P9: Branson 2, Ohio Valley 1
P10: Hawaii 16, Missouri 1
P11: Southeast 3, Hawaii 2
P12: Massachusetts 2, Midwest Plains 0
P13: Middle Atlantic 6, Southwest 5
P14: Mexico 10, New Zealand 3
P15: Republic of Korea 14, Curacao 0
P16: Ohio Valley 3, Pacific Southwest 2
P17: North Carolina 11, North Dakota 0
P18: Pennsylvania 3, Branson 1
P19: New England 5, New York 0
P20: Pacific Northwest 10, Alabama 8
P21: Japan 14, Canada 0
P22: Puerto Rico 6, Bahamas 1
P23: Florida 2, Middle Atlantic 1
P24: Dominican Republic 17, New Zealand 2
P25: Hawaii 10, New York 0
P26: New England 8, Missouri 1
P27: Republic of Korea 11, Bahamas 1
P28: Pennsylvania 1, Pacific Southwest 0
P29: Southwest 13, North Dakota 3
P30: Branson 13, Oregon 4
P31: Massachusetts 10, Pacific Northwest 2
P32: Mexico 9, Puerto Rico 0
P33: Kentucky 8, Alabama 0
P34: Japan 13, Curacao 0
P35: Missouri vs. Southeast, 9 a.m. at Boston Field
P36: Kentucky vs. Midwest Plains, 9 a.m. at St. Louis Field
P37: Bahamas vs. Japan, 10 a.m. at Chicago Field
P38: North Carolina vs. Florida, 11:30 a.m. at Boston Field
P39: New England vs. Hawaii, 11:30 a.m. at St. Louis Field
P40: Canada vs. Curacao, 12:30 p.m. at Chicago Field
P41: Puerto Rico vs. Dominican Republic, 2 p.m. at Boston Field
P42: North Dakota vs. Middle Atlantic, 2 p.m. at St. Louis Field
P43: Alabama vs. Massachusetts, 3 p.m. at Chicago Field
P44: Oregon vs. Ohio Valley, 4:30 p.m. at St. Louis Field
P45: Pacific Southwest vs. Branson, 5:30 p.m. at Chicago Field
P46: Mexico vs. Republic of Korea, 7 p.m. at St. Louis Field
P47: Midwest Plains vs. Pacific Northwest, 9 a.m. at Boston Field
P48: Middle Atlantic vs. North Carolina, 9 a.m. at St. Louis
P49: Dominican Republic vs. Mexico, 10 a.m. at Chicago Field
P50: Ohio Valley vs. Pennsylvania, 11:30 a.m. at Boston Field
P51: Southeast vs. New England, 11:30 a.m. at St. Louis
P52: Curacao vs. Puerto Rico, 12:30 p.m. at Chicago Field
P53: Republic of Korea vs. Canada, 2 p.m. at Boston Field
P54: Florida vs. Southwest, 2 p.m. at St. Louis Field
P55: Massachusetts vs. Kentucky, 3 p.m. at Chicago Field
P56: Oregon vs. Pacific Southwest, 4:30 p.m. at St. Louis Field
P57: New Zealand vs. Bahamas, 5:30 p.m. at Chicago Field
P58: Missouri vs. New York, 7 p.m. at St. Louis Field
B59: Pool A US fifth place vs. Pool B US third place, 9 a.m. at Boston Field
B60: Pool A US second place vs. Pool D US first place, 10 a.m. at Chicago Field
B61: Pool B US fourth place vs. Pool C US fourth place, 11:30 a.m. at Boston Field
B62: Pool E International sixth place vs. Pool E International third place, 11:30 a.m. at St. Louis Field
B63: Pool C US second place vs. Pool B US first place, 12:30 p.m. at Chicago Field
B64: Pool E International ninth place vs. Pool D US third place, 2 p.m. at Boston Field
B65: Pool B US second place vs. Pool C US first place, 2 p.m. at St. Louis Field
B66: Pool B US fifth place vs. Pool C US third place, 3 p.m. at Chicago Field
B67: Pool A US fourth place vs. Pool D US fourth place, 4:30 p.m. at Boston Field
B68: Pool E International fifth place vs. Pool E International fourth place, 4:30 p.m. at St. Louis Field
B69: Pool C US fifth place vs. Pool A US third place, 5:30 p.m. at Chicago Field
B70: Pool D US second place vs. Pool A US first place, 7 p.m. at St. Louis Field
B71: Pool D US fifth place vs. Pool E International eighth place, 8 p.m. at Chicago Field
B72: Pool E International seventh place vs. Winner B59, 10 a.m. at Chicago Field
B73: Winner B60 vs. Winner B65, 11:30 a.m. at St. Louis Field
B74: Winner B61 vs. Winner B64, 12:30 p.m. at Chicago Field
B75: Winner B62 vs. Pool E International second place, 2 p.m. at St. Louis Field
B76: Winner B66 vs. Winner B67, 3 p.m. at Chicago Field
B77: Winner B63 vs. Winner B70, 4:30 p.m. at St. Louis Field
B78: Winner B69 vs. Winner B71, 5:30 p.m. at Chicago Field
B79: Winner B68 vs. Pool E International first place, 7 p.m. at St. Louis Field
B80: Winner B72 vs. Winner B73, 10 a.m. at Chicago Field
B81: Winner B76 vs. Winner B78, 12:30 p.m. at Chicago Field
B82: Winner B75 vs. Winner B79, 3:30 p.m. at St. Louis Field
B83: Winner B73 vs. Winner B77, 6 p.m. at St. Louis Field
B84: Winner B80 vs. Winner B81, 9 a.m. at Chicago Field
B85: Winner B83 vs. Winner B82, 3 p.m. at St. Louis Field