When three East Coast Michigan travel baseball teams each made it to the Hope College baseball tournament championship with perfect 4-0 records, the program had a chance to do something special.
The 16U team took the field first first, pulling off a 6-5 victory to set the tone for the next two teams. In similar fashion, the 17U players earned a 7-6 victory to claim a title of their own.
It was up to the leaders of the program on the 18U team to keep the streak alive, and they did just that, winning 3-2 in the final championship game of the tournament.
“All the teams played back-to-back-to-back and they could share in each other’s successes…I think that was really cool,” ECM Director of Operations and 18U head coach Kyle Sheppard said. “It said something about the program as a whole. I think that was a really cool experience for us.”
Although games are played in an effort to win and bringing home championship trophies is fun, Sheppard said that’s not the goal of the ECM organization.
“This program isn’t set up just to try to win tournaments on the weekend and do whatever it takes to win trophies. We’re trying to do what’s best for the individual [players] and ultimately, I find success in players moving on from our program to college, even if it’s not in baseball necessarily,” he said. “I feel like the goal is to develop the players first and foremost, and if we do that and the players work hard, then the success will come.”
And with more than half of this year’s graduating class committed to competing across the state at the collegiate level this fall, Sheppard has considered this season a success.
“Success comes from what the players do and the hard work they put into it. That hard work contributes to our success in the tournaments,” he said.
After winning the tournament at Hope College on June 26, players had only a few days to prepare for a roadtrip to Cleaveland, Ohio, for the Laurie Mendenhall Memorial tournament that began on June 30.
The 18U team went 5-1 to earn a spot in the gold bracket championship, becoming just one of two teams to remain in the 38-team tournament.
“We were definitely hitting the ball real well, we were pitching well, and making plays,” Warren De La Salle senior catcher Adam Broski said. “We were just outplaying our opponents in all the little things.”
The little things proved important in the championship game as ECM defeated Bo Jackson Elite 4-2 to claim the title.
“We went through some adversity [to get there],” former St. Clair pitcher Cam Bleasdale said. “We had a loss going into the finals and that team had a few DI commits [Auburn and Ohio State], and we just beat them. It was a good tournament.”
“It’s not always about where you’re going but how you play sometimes,” Sheppard said, “and I think our players use that as motivation to prove something every time they’re on the field.”
Even off the field, the players have proven their passion for the game by helping younger athletes develop in the sport, whether it’s setting an example at their mixed age group practices or coaching more than 40 young athletes at ECM’s first-ever youth camp in July.
“The purpose of that is to have the older players sort of rub off on the younger players, whether it’s their work ethic or how they handle their preparation for practice or how they go through drills,” Sheppard said. “I got five or six emails from families about how wonderful the camp was and that their kids enjoyed it and they liked working with our players.”
Sheppard and the rest of the ECM coaches will be hosting tryouts for the 16U, 17U, and 18U temas this week, Aug. 3-4, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the St. Clair Little League fields. To register, contact Sheppard at 810-941-2788 or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org