Salina Drive taking Kansas Grand Slam 16-under division by storm in dominating fashion
From the time a group of local fathers got together 10 years ago to form a team of fledgling 7-year-old baseball players, the Salina Drive's mission hasn't changed.
"We coach them up," coach Darrin Sterrett said. "We teach them fundamental baseball."
Only about half of the original members remain from first team, but as 16-year-olds, they remain true to those same principals. Clearly it has paid off the past two days in the Kansas All-American Grand Slam tournament, where the Drive breezed through pool play with a 4-0 record, positioning themselves with a top seed in the 16-under semifinals.
"You know we're going to have strong pitching and play very solid defense," Sterrett said. "And recently our bats have come alive.
"But we're not going to give you anything. You have to earn it."
And that certainly proved problematic for their Pool B opponents Thursday and Friday, as the Drive steamrolled McPherson, Buhler, Topeka Stogies-Freeman and Abilene's Bandits Baseball by a combined score of 41-2, outhitting them 40-7 without allowing an earned run.
With pool play completed, the Drive will face the Salina Eagles, runners-up in Pool A, at 4 p.m. Saturday at Dean Evans Stadium. The other semifinal, slated for 2 p.m., matches Pool A winner Topeka Stogies-Reynolds against McPherson, with the winners playing for the championship at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, also at Dean Evans.
Saturday's game times all were pushed back because of overnight rain.
"We feel good about our chances to win it all," said slick-fielding shortstop Brady Howard, a Salina South junior-to-be who has been with the Drive from the beginning. "Every single person on our team is pretty confident."
And for good reason. Along with their ever-present pitching and defense, the Drive have found a groove with their wooden bats as well over the first two days.
"We've been hitting really well situationally," said Evan Bogart, a Sacred Heart High School junior and one of the Drive's top pitchers, who also plays third base and outfield when he's not on the mound. "We're doing a good job getting runners in scoring position and moving them around."
Leadoff man Bogart, now in his third summer with the Drive, had two hits, drove in two runs and scored three in Friday morning's five-inning, 14-1 victory over Topeka Stogies-Freeman at Evans Stadium. Howard added an RBI double and three runs, and catcher Zack Miller, a pickup from Abilene High School, was 3-for-4 with two runs and two driven in.
Ellsworth's Cole Webber went the distance on the mound, allowing one unearned run on one hit in five innings for the victory. He also is in his third year with the team.
"I felt I did pretty good, other than the (two) walks," said Webber, who already had a five-run lead when he took the mound for the bottom of the first inning.
The Drive, who beat the McPherson Bullpups 3-1 and the Buhler Nationals 17-0 in just three innings Thursday in McPherson, wrapped up pool play Friday afternoon with a 7-0 shutout of the Abilene Bandits.
"We've only given up two runs in (four) games," said Bogart, who pitched four innings and allowed just one hit in the opener against McPherson and will be available for bracket play Saturday or Sunday. "We've pitched really well."
As original members have dropped out, Sterrett brought in players from nearby Abilene, Ellsworth, Beloit and Hoisington to fill out the roster. But the nucleus is still home-grown, with Salina Central's Gunnar Gross a key contributor on the mound and at catcher.
Sterrett took over as the Drive's coach early in the team's development.
"Not having a kid on the team, some of the dads asked me to coach," he said. "Sometimes it's a better situation when you have someone who's not associated with the team, where they don't care what the kid's last name is and can make impartial decisions."
The Drive are primarily a traveling team and have compiled a 19-6 record against top tournament competition in surrounding states.
"We're trying to build for their high school seasons," Sterrett said of the team's scheduling philosophy. "I don't mind losing (during the summer) to really good teams, because it makes us better."
The improvement has been evident so far in the tournament. Four days before edging McPherson in Thursday's Grand Slam opener, they lost 11-0 to the same Bullpups team.
"Early in the season struggled getting timely hits, but lately we've been doing a lot better," Howard said.
Sterrett agreed that the Drive's offensive resurgence has helped raise their game to another level.
"Recently our bats have come alive, and we've been hitting a lot of line drives," Sterrett said. "When we hit the ball like that, along with our pitching and defense, we're a pretty hard team to beat."
Salina Eagles gain Friday split
The Salina Eagles split a pair of games Friday, falling 5-1 to Topeka Stogies-Reynolds and beating the Topeka Scrappers, 10-6, to finish at 1-2 in Pool A. The Eagles advanced bracket play after earning a forfeit victory over Mammoth Sports.
Jace Humphrey and Leon Rowe each had two hits with Rowe driving in three runs in the Eagles' victory over the Scrappers. Jack Gordon had two RBIs.
This article originally appeared on Salina Journal: Salina Drive taking Kansas Grand Slam 16-under division by storm in dominating fashion