Monument Major Boys confident heading into Little League regional in Texas
The Little League World Series is played in Williamsport, Pa., and the Monument Little League Major baseball team knows it.
But does the name Williamsport resonate with them? Is it to them what Omaha, Neb., is for NCAA Division I baseball? Is it what Grand Junction is to junior college baseball?
Probably not, said Monument manager Sean Kreidler. It probably resonates with coaches and parents, he said. But the kids?
Kreidler laughed and agreed with one of his assistant coaches, Monument’s 12- and 13-year-old boys are more mesmerized by the video game “Call of Duty.”
Williamsport is just the name of another city to them.
But the players understand there’s a championship to be won there, and their goal is to give themselves that opportunity. It starts with the Southwest Region tournament in Waco, Texas, where Monument opens pool play at 7:30 p.m. Saturday against McAllister Park National of San Antonio.
After winning Colorado’s state tournament, pitcher Zach Coutts said, “That’s our first step. Our second step is to win regionals, and our last step is to win Williamsport.”
It’s OK to speak of that ultimate goal, Kreidler said, because if the players don’t believe they can do it, they aren’t going to do it.
So, they believe. They’re confident, and it stems from athleticism and a foundation of success, Kreidler said. Many of the players also play together on successful football and basketball teams.
“They’re confident in their abilities,” Kreidler said. “Over the years, everyone at some point has stepped up and proven themselves.”
Previous age levels of Little League baseball didn’t have regional tournaments awaiting the state champ, but two years ago, the current Monument Major group went to a nonsanctioned regional invitational in Arkansas, where it beat the previously undefeated Arkansas state champion and the Oklahoma state champ, Kreidler said, adding Monument outscored the competition 96-6.
“We played good teams, and we dominated,” he said. “They’re all bigger, stronger, faster, but so are we. … We know Texas is a baseball hotbed, and Louisiana in recent years has been dominant. … We go in knowing if we play well, we have a chance to win it.”
Kreidler also said it’s going to take playing great baseball and some luck. He believes his team can do the former, and that often helps create the latter.
Singling out a team strength is difficult. However, “if I had to pick one,” Kreidler said, “it would be hitting.”
Kreidler said Monument’s batting average is about .600 for the postseason, bolstered by a district tournament in which it blasted 39 home runs. The long ball also surfaced seven times in three state tourney games, and although two players on the team have not hit home runs, Kreidler quickly adds, “They could.”
Pitching is right behind hitting when assessing what Monument does best.
Kreidler said he has two big-game pitchers in Jax Nourse and Coutts, who are quite the contrast. Nourse is about 5-foot-10, 165-175 pounds. He looks like he should be playing linebacker on the high school football team.
“Jax brings intimidation,” Kreidler said, “because of his size and how hard he throws.”
Coutts could be mistaken for the team’s batboy, but opponents quickly figure out there’s a big arm on the little guy.
“Zach’s off-speed stuff is better,” Kreidler said. “He’ll put the ball where the glove is, and they don’t hit him hard.”
Monument catcher Zack Owens gets the best view of the duo, and his sentiments echo Kreidler’s:
“(Nourse) throws hard, and most people don’t touch him … and if his off-speed is on, he’s deadly,” Owens said. “(Coutts is) a little guy, and people probably don’t think he can throw hard, but he does. He probably has the best off-speed on the team.”
When it comes to fielding and base running, Monument excels there, too.
“When we’re on defensively, we feel we can beat anybody,” Owens said.
Third baseman/pitcher Shawn Garcia mentioned base running first when addressing Monument’s greatest strength, then added, “but pretty much we’re skilled everywhere.”
Kreidler adds one more element to the list of strengths: The players embrace the team concept. All but one of the 12 players have been playing together on Mavs competitive teams. They know each other and like each other.
“We stress team,” Kreidler said. “That’s what we’re built on. … It’s been nine, 10 months a year (of playing baseball together). That’s why we started the competitive team, to help the (Little League) all-star team.
“We’ve called it an experience. … The kids got to meet (Colorado Rockies slugger) Todd Helton the other night. Some of the stuff we do together makes it more than playing a baseball game.”
The regional is the next experience and Monument doesn’t intend for it to be its last one this season.
“We’re not afraid to face competition,” Owens said. “We want the chance to play Texas (in the regional). … We want to go to Williamsport and play California.”