Port Neches turns into All-Star city

Published 9:42 pm Monday, July 3, 2017

PORT NECHES — Michael Reeves has no idea what’s in the water.

“But I like it,” the Port Neches 12-year-old Little League All-Star manager said.

What’s in the air in Port Neches has been evidenced by the play of youth and high school baseball in the city. Not a full month has passed since Port Neches-Groves won the 5A state championship, but athletes who are 5 to 8 years younger than the high school Indians are showing that the future of the high school’s program remains bright.

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“It’s been hard work; that’s what it is,” Port Neches 11-year-old coach Bobby Chiasson said. “I can’t be more excited to say that they just come in and put the hard work in.”

Said 12-year-old player Landon Guarnere: “We just have a good coaching staff. We always work hard and play as a team, practice every day.”

This week, the Port Neches 10-, 11- and 12-year-old All-Star teams will compete in Little League sectional tournaments across Southeast Texas. The eldest bunch, also known as the Majors, won’t need to go very far when their tournament at Nederland begins Wednesday.

Guarnere’s teammate Cole Crippen knows the value of staying close to home.

“You don’t have to go hours away every time you play,” Crippen said. “We went to Jasper and it was 3 hours away, so our legs were kind of tired from going all the way out there. We can just go to our hitting facility and drive all the way from there to Nederland.”

All three Port Neches teams won District 32 titles in the past two weeks to make it to sectionals, which is the step before the Texas East state tournament in Houston. The winner on that level will go to Waco for the Southwest Regional, the final step before the prestigious Little League World Series.

The Port Neches 11s might have taken the most dramatic path to sectionals. After beating Bridge City 2-1, the Cardinals worked their way through the losers’ bracket and beat PN 8-3 before PN built a 9-0 lead going into the bottom of the second.

“I told the guys to stay resilient; there are six innings in baseball,” Chiasson said. “After seven innings, it was 16-15.”

Yogi Berra would have been proud of both teams.

The PN Majors beat Hamshire-Fannett 22-2 to advance to Nederland, and Crippen said the Indians drew lots of confidence from the convincing win for sectionals.

The current PN 10-year-olds, coached by Buddy Hebert, will begin their sectional run at North Shore in Houston against the District 17 winner.

Just a year ago, Bridge City was the dominant program in District 32 with baseball 10-year-olds, Majors and Juniors, as well as softball 10s, Juniors and Seniors, compete in state. The Port Neches 11-year-olds of 2016 also competed in state.

“It’s been a culture where Bridge City has had some great years,” Chiasson said. “They’ve had some great teams. The culture has changed at Port Neches Little League. Our enrollment’s gone from 205 to about 330 in the past five years.”

The support from the community, along with the unity on PNLL’s board of directors and investment in the PNLL fields are among the factors for the improved culture, Chiasson cited.

Those Port Neches 11-year-olds are now Majors, and Reeves likes their chances of going all the way to South Williamsport, Pa., for a little national exposure.

His reasons for that: “Just the talent. These kids play baseball 365 days out of the year. Not just Little League, but they’re also involved with selects. When they bring it here, this is just a group that’s matured.

“You can see by their size that they’re not intimidated by any means. I feel real confident we can get past the sectionals again and get to state.”

I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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