Little Leaguers off to regional

Sunday, August 1, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:08 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Ten boys sit and listen to Missouri baseball coach Tim Jamieson.

“If you keep playing and practicing hard, you may have the opportunity to play at college and beyond,” Jamieson said.

On Tuesday night, the 11- and 12-year old Columbia National League All-Stars won the Missouri State Little League Baseball Championship with a 6-3 victory against Jefferson County R-7.

On Thursday, they listened to Jamieson. They are the first Columbia team to advance to regional competition.

The Columbia All-Stars will play for a spot in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Penn., beginning at 12:30 p.m. today at the Midwest Regional Tournament in Indianapolis.

The Columbia All-Stars (9-1) will face the state champions from Kansas (7-1). The Regional also includes teams from Iowa, Oklahoma, Minnesota, and North/South Dakota.

“This has been a dream of theirs for the last for years,” coach Mark Pfeiffer said.

The Columbia All-Stars clinched its first district title four years ago, placing third at the state tournament. They won two more district titles since then, but always lost in the state tournament.

Pitching coach Bob DeGraaff said the losses were hard for the team, but he looked to the future.

“I knew if we stayed together and continued to develop, we would have a really good shot at this,” DeGraaff said.

Tuesday’s starter, Piper Graves, said he was excited before the state title game, but knew he had a large role in the game.

“There was a lot of pressure, especially in the sixth inning,” Graves said. “They had one of their best guys up to bat, and I just pitched to the kid and tried my best.”

Utility player Alan Hatfield, who is in his first season with the All-Stars, said he could not be more pleased.

“I was psyched and amped,” Hatfield said. “I never even experienced a district championship. This has been my first year on an All-Star team. A bunch of teammates have been waiting four years to win state and I think I got lucky.”

After three years, shortstop Robert DeGraaff could relax a little.

“We’ve gotten second, third and fourth the past three years,” Robert DeGraaff said. “This was my last chance to go the Regional, so I played my hardest.”

DeGraaff (3-0) will pitch against Kansas. The pitching staff for the All-Stars has been exceptional. In its 10 postseason games, the team has allowed 23 runs.

DeGraaff said he is ready to play.

“They always want me in clutch situations,” DeGraaff said. “I’m really good when the game is on the line.”

Centerfielder Charlie Henderson’s bat should help DeGraaff. Henderson, the leadoff batter, has produced three home runs in the postseason. He said nothing has altered his batting technique.

“I just do what feels natural, and it all came together during All-Stars,” Henderson said.

The team is guaranteed four games at the regional tournament, and results will determine the seeds for the semifinals on Friday. The winners will meet Aug. 8 in the championship. The game will be broadcast live at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN2

Pfeiffer said he has a talented group of athletes, but anything can happen in tournament play.

“They are an excellent group of baseball players,” Pfeiffer said. “They are comfortable with each other and have a good understanding of their roles, but you can lose at any time.”

As Jamieson’s speech to the team continues, as he cautions them about distractions.

“Concentrate on what you are doing at the time,” Jamieson said. “Try not to get caught up in the atmosphere.”

Traveling could be a distraction for the team, and the attention it receives after they arrive in Indianapolis might distract them.

“You have people there to really make these guys fell like pros,” Bob DeGraaff said. “This is going to be heaven for a week for these guys.”

Second baseman Scott Skrabal explained the team’s outlook the best.

“I want to win, but whatever happens, happens,” Skrabal said. “It’s just kind of cool to go to Indianapolis.”

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