Going into the Triple Crown World Series that took place in Park City last week, the Skullcandy Crushers 10-and-under and 12U squads had one goal become the first Park City teams to pick up victories at the tournament.
Both teams did exactly that, with the 12U team finishing the tournament with a 1-4 record and the 10U team amassing a 4-4 record and finishing in third place overall.
Despite limited practice time leading up to the tournament for the two newly formed teams, the players from Summit and Wasatch counties surpassed coaches' expectations across the board.
"I couldn't be happier about it," 10U coach Brent Milner said. "These were the first wins for Park City in the history of this tournament. All the boys exceeded my expectations."
Because practice time was scarce before last week's games, Milner said the coaching staff couldn't focus on improving the players' skills. Rather, they focused on teaching the boys how to maximize their skills in certain situations.
"You can teach them defensive strategies, you can teach them offensive strategies and we were able to execute that," Milner said. "We worked on three things that would help us in the tournament we worked on base running, we worked on bunting and we were able to execute that and we worked on double-play balls."
The 10U squad went 1-2 in pool play before turning in a 3-2 record in the double-elimination tournament. Tournament play was highlighted by a thrilling 13-10 victory over the Utah Yankees.
"We gave up eight runs in the first inning," Milner said. "But then we settled down and started chipping away at it and ended up winning 13-10. That was an absolute emotional rush for the boys."
Both losses in tournament play came to the San Fernando Titans, a team from Southern California. Milner said he was happy with his team's performance against one of the best 10U teams in the country.
"They've played together since they were five," he said of the Titans. "I don't think we were particularly overmatched, though. We just hit them where they were and they hit them where we weren't. Those boys played really well. That team was the best we faced in the tournament."
Gregg Ratkovic, the 12U head coach, said he was proud of the way the teams came together so quickly and demonstrated an ability to quickly implement things that were worked on in practice.
"We only played together for five days before the tournament," he said. "The teams we were competing against had been playing together for two years plus. This is really just the beginning of what I believe will be a great franchise."
Because of the strong showing by both squads, tournament directors invited the Crushers to compete in next year's 11U and 13U World Series in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Former Major League Baseball player and Crushers assistant Robin Jennings said the sky is the limit for both teams if they put in the work during the offseason.
"It'll all depend on how much time they put in," he said. "The majority of the kids on both teams have very strong work ethics and they can take it as far as they want. Baseball is a game that, from 8-28, you're going to be working on the same things. If they keep working on them, they're only going to get better."
Beck Milner, who plays for the 10U team, said matching up against some of the best squads in the country was a thrill.
"Especially playing against Southern California teams, it was definitely a little bit scary and fun at the same time," he said. "It was a ton of fun to have the first trophy in Park City history for the Triple Crown World Series."
The 10U Skullcandy Crushers also were the top Utah team in the tournament, Brent Milner added.
When Beck was asked what it would take to make another strong showing at next year's Series, Jennings looked at Beck and asked, "What's the answer?"
"Practice?" Beck ventured.
"One pitch at a time " Jennings prompted as Beck joined in. "One at-bat at a time, one inning at a time, one game at a time."
"I harped on that for a couple days," Jennings laughed.