In early August, the Black Hills 12U All-Stars headed off to the 2023 Cal Ripken World Series in Branson, Missouri. Led by coach Geoff Pohl and his coaching team, the 12U All-Star squad capped off an incredible season with an impressive showing at the highest level of competition. They finished by placing 3rd in the United States and 5th in the world.
The team has since returned home to Thurston County and is now enjoying a well-earned off-season. Wrapping up this type of experience is always a little bittersweet. Still, Black Hills Youth Baseball is looking toward a future filled with meaningful connections and positive culture.
Black Hills Youth Baseball operates under the umbrella of Cal Ripken Youth Baseball (ages 6-12). The 12U All-Stars’ journey to the World Series began with an initial league season and league tournament that culminated in the formation of the All-Star team.
Coach Pohl then carefully selected challenging tournaments to help prepare the All-Stars, including the prestigious Cooperstown Dreams Park tournament in New York. “The whole season was a really great experience,” Pohl shares. “The fact that we played well through all competitions was icing on the cake.”
After dominating the Washington State 12U State Tournament and the PNW Regional Tournaments, there was only one stop left on the roadmap: The 2023 Cal Ripken World Series.
The journey to Branson, Missouri was a logistical challenge, but Thurston County and other surrounding communities rallied behind the team by contributing to a fundraiser. After scrambling to get the logistics sorted by early August, the All-Stars left Washington for their grand adventure.
The facilities provided for arriving teams were nothing short of spectacular. Accommodations included dorm rooms with locker areas, brand-new uniforms, custom batting helmets, bats and more.
The Missouri weather presented its own challenge as games got underway. Extreme heat, humidity and turf fields combined to create a taxing competition environment. Despite the sweltering conditions, the team persevered. They embraced the early morning games and adapted to the weather’s unpredictability.
“One game was even postponed due to a thunderstorm,” Pohl shares. “We ended up being the only team that played two games in one day because of that.” Even thunder and lightning couldn’t stop the Black Hills 12U All-Stars on their way to an impressive finish.
The 2023 Cal Ripken World Series in Branson featured 34 teams, with 24 representing the United States as well as 10 international teams. This year’s tournament structure included five pool play games after which the top two teams from each pool advanced to bracket play. This competition represented the pinnacle of 12U Cal Ripken baseball worldwide.
The Black Hills 12U All-Stars excelled during pool play and finished with a 4-1 record. They faced tough opponents from all over the country, such as teams based in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Windsor, California. Their journey in the championship bracket was colored by intense competition, including a game against a team from Waipahu, Hawai’i, where they won a hard-fought 9-inning clash. This sent them to the U.S. semi-finals, where they lost to Honolulu, Hawai’i, 5-1. Ultimately, the All-Stars finished 3rd in the United States and 5th in the world.
The Black Hills All-Stars’ journey not only showcases their baseball skills but also demonstrates the values and life lessons instilled by the Black Hills Youth Baseball organization. “We’re trying to help develop young athletes both as players and people,” Pohl states. With a motto always encouraging competitors to “Earn It,” it seems this team truly did earn their accolades.
Speaking of accolades, the All-Star team received a special celebratory gift after returning home. In a gesture that won’t be soon forgotten, the Seattle Mariners invited the coaches and players to a game where they were honored by name. Coach Pohl’s son threw out the first pitch and pictures were displayed on the big screen. How about that as a way to end the season?
While the World Series journey has concluded, the Black Hills Youth Baseball organization continues to welcome young athletes. Head to the Black Hills Youth Baseball website to learn more about the organization’s mission and available programs.
The Black Hills 12U All-Stars successfully represented Thurston County and showcased their resilience on the world stage. Their story serves as a testament to the power of youth sports, community support, and the enduring impact of sportsmanship and determination.