Charleston Fighting Squirrels claims first Senior Babe Ruth World Series title with 4-1 win over Mobile (Ala.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2018
The Charleston Fighting Squirrels leap onto a dog pile to celebrate following a 4-1 win over Mobile (Ala.) in the Senior Babe Ruth World Series championship Saturday at Russell Diethrick Jr. Park in Jamestown, New York. The result gave Charleston its first-ever World Series title. (Conti Photography/Special to the SEMO News Service)

A swarm of Charleston players dogpiled on Sikeston’s Will Pratt, Sunday afternoon, as the former Bulldog recorded the final out of the Babe Ruth World Series, and a championship for the Fighting Squirrels — the first one in program history.

Charleston defeated Mobile, Alabama, 4-1 behind strong pitching and timely hitting.

The Fighting Squirrels got off to a fast start.

Cole Nichols led-off the game by reaching on an error by the shortstop. Then after he stole second base, Lane Baremore advanced him to third on a groundout to second base.

Oran’s Drew Reischman would then drive him in with one of his game-high two RBI, as he grounded out to third base.

With a quick 1-0 lead, head coach Michael Minner elected to go with Pratt to take the bump — which turned out to be the right decision.

Pratt allowed just one run on four hits. He also struck out three, while only walking one and hitting one batter in the process.

Pratt also proved to be extremely efficient on the mound, throwing just 88 pitches with 58 pitches being strikes. His performance earned him the Most Outstanding Player Award as well.

“He’s unbelievable,” Minner said. “He had the week of his life, probably. Come in, got us out of a jam against California, then he came back in the next day, you know, shut it down again and then gets the ball on a couple days rest and has predominantly been a starter for us. You know, he started a game or two throughout the season and then, you know, he’s a gamer, and like I said, he’s a Fighting Squirrel.

“The kid has been here since he was 15. He’s been a part of some of the rough games, you know, and he’s been a part of the greatest in program history. He’s a kid that didn’t complain whenever he wasn’t on a certain team; he just came over, did his job, grew as a player and made himself a great player and then got an opportunity to shine and I had all the confidence in the world in him. Once we got a lead, I knew that we were probably going to win with him on the mound.”

Behind-the-plate for Charleston was Bobby Wright — a stable for the Fighting Squirrels for the entire season and someone who doesn’t get that much attention for the impact that he brings. Effectively calling games is what Minner said that he loves the most about Wright, but on Sunday he did more than that.

After Nichols gave the Fighting Squirrels an early 1-0 lead, Southwest tied the game up in the bottom of the second.

Sam Lander started the inning off with a walk, then after a flyout and groundout advanced him to third base, Kendall Cribb brought him home on an RBI single.

That would be the only damage that Charleston would allow, as the Fighting Squirrels put the icing on the cake in the fifth inning, thanks to Wright.

Dallon Stotts started off the rally by reaching on an error on the third baseman. Wright would then bring him home, as he hit the go-ahead RBI double to put the Fighting Squirrels back on top, at 2-1.

Charleston eventually tacked on another pair of runs to increase its cushion, but Minner said that Wright coming through in a clutch situation was something special to see.

“We don’t talk about Bobby Wright enough,” Minner said. “Bobby’s one of those kids; Bobby never asks any questions. He just kind of did his thing. He grew so much as a player here, as a guy that understood the game and understood what we were trying to accomplish. We went through a lot of ups-and-downs this year. Today, umpires want things a certain way; coaches want things a certain way and Bobby probably went through about five different phases this year of what our expectations were. He just did what he was supposed to do and just did what he had to for our team to be successful.

“I felt like late in the year, me and him were right on the same page, I wasn’t calling pitches, but early in the year, we talked a lot about how I wanted things done, and I called pitches, and he learned, and he paid attention. So, two years with me, I probably said six or seven times in the championship game, ‘that was a great call,’ and it was a pitch that I wanted. I had enough faith that Bobby was going to make the right call because he’s learned and then for him to come up and get the big hit that drives in the go-ahead run in the national championship, it was well-deserving. He’s a great kid, a hard worker and he’s just kind of the quiet leader.”

For Minner, representing the state of Missouri and, especially, Southeast Missouri in the World Series is one thing that he said he was most happy about accomplishing.

Hillhouse Park in Charleston, Missouri, will now add another banner to the stadium, with this one having to be a little more important than all of the rest.

“You can’t put it into words what it meant,” Minner said. “After the game, the kids were so excited. Just such a great feeling of accomplishment. This is what we’ve shot for since we started and you just never know if it’s going to come true, and to say that you’re a national champion is a pretty big feat. We’re excited for the kids; we’re excited for our community, Southeast Missouri. We represent the state of Missouri; we just represented a lot of people, including the Midwest Plains. I think people would be proud of not only the way we acted on the field but the way we handled ourselves off of the field.”

Having a team that can battle through high expectations and still can show grit through tough coaching is what Minner said he appreciates most about this team.

“This group had a lot of guts,” Minner said. “I’m hard-nosed; I’ve probably hollered and screamed as much as I’ve ever had this summer. You know, I was all over guys. I think the thing that kind of separated us from other teams was the fact that nobody let that affect them; they took the brow beatings and when I hollered at them, they didn’t lay down, they didn’t let that affect them; they challenged themselves, and they met the challenge. Together, we grew, and we became a unit that was really, really close that believed in what we were doing. It taught me a lot too. Whenever you got guys that are being challenged, it affects everybody and this group; they rose to the occasion, and they continued to fight all while I challenged them and trying to make them better. We didn’t quit doing the baseball thing, and we didn’t let that take away from what we were trying to accomplish. They met me at the gate every day and said, ‘let’s go to work,’ so I think they became better men; they became better players. Ultimately, our program became better because that group came together at the right time.”

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