Mid-County mirth: Locals welcome home World Series champions

Published 8:37 pm Sunday, August 13, 2017

NEDERLAND — Forget Mid-County Madness.

Mid-County mirth was floating in the air Sunday evening as family and friends of Mid-County Senior Babe Ruth team members cheered in the parking lot just outside Nederland High School’s Metreyon-Delahoussaye Field parking lot and welcomed them home from the eight-day Babe Ruth 16- to 18-year-old World Series in Ephrata, Washington. Mid-County won the championship on Saturday afternoon, beating Cape Cod, Massachusetts, 6-0 and came home the next day from a Houston airport on a tour bus escorted by local police.

“It’s a pleasure to have a great community that comes out and supports us,” outfielder Kody Kolb said, moments after coming off the bus hoisting the championship trophy. “None of us expected to have anything like this when we came home. It’s great to have for this community, this team and this organization here.”

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It’s the first national championship for Mid-County in an estimated nine appearances in the World Series, according to assistant coach Clint Landry. The Nederland-based program first made the World Series in that age group in 1992.

The scene of an estimated 150 well-wishers, including Nederland’s own cheerleaders and Westernaires dance team, celebrating with balloons, congratulatory posters and a giant cookie was plenty for Mid-County manager Ben Rogers to comprehend, right?

“No,” he said. “Never expected this.”

Winning it all, in fact, was what the Mid-County players expected and nothing less, said Kolb, a 2006 Nederland graduate.

The party? Not so much.

“Our only goal was to win it all,” Kolb said. “There was no looking back once we won the regional. We got the job done and we came back with the trophy.”
And after 41 years of coaching youth baseball, fellow assistant Jimmy Collins waited for a day like Sunday.

“It’s about as special as you can get,” said Collins, of Nederland. “It was unbelievably good. I’m so proud of everybody, from all the league guys all the way through.”

The 2002 16-year-old team from Mid-County won a World Series in Russellville, Arkansas.

Mid-County went 5-1 in the tournament, winning its first three pool play games and a semifinal over host team Columbia Basin on Friday night en route to the title bout. Mid-County last played in a championship game in 2013, losing to Mobile County, Alabama, 2-1, in Andalusia, Alabama.

“We held the catcher back [in Thursday’s defeat to Tucson, Arizona] and let him get his legs back,” Rogers said. “We threw some kids that hadn’t thrown in the entire tournament. They didn’t even throw in the regional. Then, we sat down and looked over our entire roster, we picked out our most firepower, and that’s who we started with.”

Zach Clark batted .476 during the World Series to lead Mid-County.

Mid-County was the team to beat after beating Mobile County, the 2016 World Series champion, in the Southwest Regional in Dumas, north of Amarillo. The Nederland-based team had a roster dotted with plenty of current and recently graduated Nederland players, but among the roster were three recent Port Neches-Groves seniors who helped the Indians win the 5A state championship and enjoyed a similar welcoming party at their home turf two months ago.

“I think it all comes down to the high school coaches,” said second baseman Logan LeJeune, a World Series all-tournament selection who’ll soon begin his college career at Lamar. “They’re all great here. They push and strive to win. They help us with the manhood and the respect for the game. We just all came together and we had one job. That was to win.”

Just as he did in the 5A championship, pitcher Brandon Morse won the MVP award in Ephrata. He went 2-0 in the World Series with 14 strikeouts and an ERA of less than 1.00.

“It’s awesome, especially when you get to include all your friends from Nederland that weren’t even on the team for PNG,” Morse said. “It’s awesome that you get to be a part of something else with your friends from Nederland.”

Mid-County had a big advantage in getting to stay under one roof together for the entire tournament.

Sure, the World Series — as do many postseason youth tournaments — had its share of host families welcoming players to Ephrata, but some of them got to host their own children as players from Columbia Basin and Moses Lake, two teams under the same River Dogs program, got to sleep in their own beds.

That allowed the family of Corey and Lavone Rae Buchert to take in all 16 Mid-County players.

“They kept us like their own and brought us everything everywhere they would do stuff,” Kolb said. “That had to be my favorite part of the trip. The other [favorite] one was winning it.”

After each game, the Mid-County players got to see a broadcast of what happened at Johnson-O’Brien Stadium in the Buchert home.

“We would all get together and watch the game and critique what we did wrong and watch over and see what we could do better,” LeJeune said. “It got us closer. We hadn’t been playing that long with each other.”

The Mid-County players played on different teams during league play in June before they were selected for tournament action.

Devaun Anderson, a 2016 Port Arthur Memorial graduate, was one of four players with college experience for Mid-County this season.

“It’s a good feeling,” the soon-to-be Huston-Tillotson University sophomore said. “It’s exciting to be No. 1 in the country and the No. 1 team in Babe Ruth. I’m kind of speechless right now.”

Coming home a champion, literally, was significant for soon-to-be Nederland junior Conner Kemp because Saturday was the last time he would play with his older brother, recent graduate and future Lamar player Chase Kemp. Chase relieved Conner, who left during third-inning warmups with an injured left shoulder, on the mound and pitched the rest of the way.

“We’ve been playing together forever,” Conner Kemp said. “It’s a really good experience to play with all these people. Most of them will be too old to play next year. I’ll just miss most of these players.”

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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