MARLBOROUGH – The Marlborough 10U Panthers baseball team built on last year’s success with a trip to the Cal Ripken World Series earlier this month.
“We’ve kind of risen to the challenge and have just gotten better and better as a group,” said Coach John Kirejczyk. “Individually they all have improved, but as a team they were able to advance so much further this year.”
Last minute invite
The Panthers, most of whom returned from the 9U team that won the 2021 state championship, received a last-minute invitation to the 20-team tournament, which was held from Aug. 5 – 13 in Vincennes, Ind.
This year, the Panthers first went undefeated when playing in their district before they headed to the Western Massachusetts State Championship, emerging unbeaten.
After the championship, the team went to the regional tournament for the Cal Ripken World Series. They lost their only two games of the season during the tournament to Milton, who was the Eastern Massachusetts champion, and Rochester, N.H.
Milton won the tournament and got an automatic bid to the World Series.
A week after the tournament, and while the Panthers were playing in an invitational tournament, Kirejczyk received a call from the regional commissioner for the northeast. He told Kirejczyk that the organizers had expanded the World Series field to 20 teams, and the Panthers’ record qualified them to be the third team from the northeast.
“I was totally taken aback. I was completely shocked,” Kirejczyk said.
World Series trip
After speaking to the players and their parents, he said there was resounding support for going to the World Series.
During the tournament, the Panthers stayed in Princeton, Ind., in a hotel with the Milton team, who the team had bonded with during the regional tournament.
“For us to be able to go to the hotel and be able to stay with them was awesome,” he said. “They already had welcoming faces, and they already had established some friendships with.”
Teams from Fargo, N.D, and Oahu, Hawaii, were also staying at the hotel. All the players got to know each other and played wiffleball together.
Coming into the tournament as an invitational team, Kirejczyk said the Panthers were initially second-guessing themselves.
However, after they won their first game against Andrews, Texas, it showed that they belonged in the tournament.
“We’re playing against less than one percent of the top teams of the country, and we held our own,” Kirejczyk said.
The team lost the three remaining games in their pool – two of which were close games and one a blowout against the home team from Vincennes.
While they didn’t advance to the championship bracket, Marlborough made it to a consolation bracket, where they first beat Moses Lake, Wash., 10-8. During the semifinals against Campbellsville, Ky., the score was close, but the Panthers ultimately lost in the bottom of the final inning with two outs.
“They did a great job bouncing back after that,” Kirejczyk said. “We had a good talk and I think the kids are in good spirits for getting ready for next year.”
Kirejczyk added that the team played great together, and that he is extremely proud of them. With a very short time frame to prepare, he said they competed and were close in almost every single game.
The Woo Sox welcomed the team on Aug. 19 as participants in the World Series, and they will be in the Marlborough Labor Day Parade in September.