2013 a turn-around year for the MC Babe Ruth All Stars
Not many Mifflin County Babe Ruth fans or followers know who Jami June is. In fact, most people who do know his name would just as soon forget about him.
June smashed a grand slam home run on a cool, gray afternoon in early August 2009 in Saugerties, N.Y., giving his team from Eastern New York a come from behind, 13-11 victory in the Mid-Atlantic Regional final that denied Mifflin County a trip to the Babe Ruth World Series.
To make matters even worse, Mifflin County held an 11-4 lead with one out before June’s team made an incredible comeback.
And when the home run ball sailed over the fence, it seemed to mark the end of an era for Mifflin County.
From 2000 to 2009, Mifflin County was the dominant league in Pennsylvania Babe Ruth baseball. During that span, Mifflin County won 10 state titles, had six state runners-up, won 28 out of 30 District 7 titles, had seven teams finish in the Mid-Atlantic Regional final four and two teams win the regional and advance to the Babe Ruth World Series. Both of those teams finished in the top 10 in the country.
Mifflin County’s record was 233-74. Included was the state sweep of 2003 when Mifflin County won all three state titles on the road in Philadelphia. Included in that sweep were wins over the defending national champion (Levittown) in the 14-year-old bracket and a championship win over State College, a team that should have been in the Little League World Series two years prior.
The 13- and the 15-year-olds beat teams from the host districts.
But after June’s home run, for the next three years it didn’t seem like anything could go right for the Royal Blue and White. Don’t get me wrong, Mifflin County still kept winning and achieving success. During those three years Mifflin County won nine district titles, had three teams land in the state’s final four and had a state runner-up.
But the breaks just didn’t seem to go Mifflin County’s way. Take for instance 2010, when Mifflin County had a chance to knock off West End in its last pool play game of the tournament, but couldn’t do it. West End came back to beat Mifflin County in the state finals.
In 2011, the 13-year-olds jumped off to a quick 2-0 lead in the semifinals against Bensalem and never scored again, losing 4-2. And in 2012, Mifflin County ran into eventual state champion Pottsville in the semifinals and fell 10-2.
And then came 2013.
For the first time since 2009, all three all-star teams (13, 14 and 15) made it to the state’s final four. Mifflin County finished with a state champion, a state runner-up and tie for third.
At the 14-year-old level, Mifflin County went 2-2 in the pool play portion of the state tournament and had a fourth seed. Then the team had to endure a four-day layoff in the midst of a suspended 5-5 tie game with the host team Tri-Township before it pulled out an 8-7 victory July 27.
Later the same day, Mifflin County made some history as it beat Valley of Hazleton 12-2 in five innings to capture the league’s 20th state title and the first one since 2009. The team advanced to the Mid-Atlantic Regional and finished in a tie for fifth place.
This was no easy feat as Kevin Reigle, the manager, and his two coaches, Don Attick and Craig Bitner, had to figure out how to manufacture runs. Their team scored only three runs in three straight state games.
The 14-year-olds had to battle Tri-Township twice, Drexel Hill and West End of Williamsport before it met Valley in the final. And all of these games were in lower Bucks County, about 200 miles from home.
The hard part about being on the road is making sure the players are adjusting to their environment and are ready to play once the game starts. And when the regionals started, in Clifton Park, N.Y., the trip was 350 miles from Mifflin County.
The 14-year-olds never lost focus and were all business, all the time.
On the 13-year-old level, Bill Corbin, the manager, along with coaches Scott Fultz and Fred Zook, not only had to keep the team headed in the right direction, but they had to do it against an overwhelming schedule in pool play. Three of the seven teams, Altoona, Broomall-Newtown and West End, all went undefeated and Mifflin County had to play all three.
But what a turn around Corbin and his gang came up with. Altoona beat Mifflin County three times – 13-3 and 6-2 in the District 7 playoffs and 4-3 in the state tournament. But each time Mifflin County got closer and closer and then pulled off the upset of the tournament as it stunned Altoona, 9-0, in the semifinals.
Mifflin County fell to West End in the finals, 8-0. Mifflin County went from a district runner-up to the state runner-up.
Sometimes, team chemistry can be overrated. It’s a term that can be overused.
Not with the Mifflin County 15-year-old all stars.
The chemistry between the coaching staff and the players was as solid as a base hit up the middle.
Manager Bernie Howard and his staff of Chuck Curry, Kip McElwain and Jeff Lusk were very pleased with the effort and the camaraderie of the players.
Still, making the final four was not an easy accomplishment, especially when injuries and other off-field issues took key players away from the team. There are very few teams that could lose three of their top players and still have the all-star season that the Mifflin County 15-year-olds had. The only two losses it did have were by one run.
The team never quit. It never made any excuses and it went to work every day. The players and the coaching staff did everything they could to succeed.
As the saying goes, “It’s not what you do in life, but what you do for others that matters.”
In other words, the players and the coaches both bonded and the success of the team is what followed.
And now maybe the memory of the Jami June home run can fade into history pages.