Heading into the American Legion Wood Bat Invitational, Ada Legion Post 72 coach Travis Graham stressed the importance of keeping runs allowed by his team (the tournament’s second tiebreaker after head-to-head) to a minimum. Sunday, Graham and the Braves parlayed that strategy into a trophy — just not the one they wanted.
Rain washed out the semifinals and finals for the second straight year, and the six runs (two earned) allowed by the Ada pitching staff over five games were good enough to earn the Braves the runner-up spot in the prestigious 40-team event.
The host squad, Post 499/Fike from Blue Springs, won the tournament by virtue of allowing just two runs all week.
“We got about four inches of rain in an hour and a half, and we had a short window,” Post 72 coach Travis Graham said. “With us about to play our zone (which begins Thursday), the last thing I needed was one of my outfielders twisting a knee.
“I thought we were set up to win it, so I was disappointed we didn’t get to play,” he added.
“I felt like were were the best team in it, and our kids wanted to play. I was pretty proud of our pitchers. When you allow six runs and only two earned runs in five games, you’ve done a good job.”
Graham had a huge rebuilding job this summer after suffering staggering losses off last year’s state runner-up, and although his 2010 Braves (22-16 on the season after going 4-1 at the tournament and 6-1 overall last week) will have a minimum of 13 fewer wins and seven more losses than the 2009 squad took into the playoffs, he said this group did something last year’s team couldn’t by advancing to the semifinals of one of the nation’s largest summer tournaments.
“We might have had more pure talent last year, but I think our kids this year have a ‘gamer’ attitude, and I was proud of the way they took to the tournament format,” he said. “We played better teams than we did last year (when the Braves finished pool play 3-1 but didn’t advance), and When the games meant something, we picked up the intensity.
“We gained a lot of confidence,” Graham added. “I was definitely encouraged by the tournament. I think we really represented Oklahoma and the Ada area very well. There were a lot of scouts there, and our kids were able to showcase their abilities. Hopefully this will be something we can do every year and make a good showing.”
The Braves earned their berth in the final four with a 9-1 run-rule victory over Parkville (Mo.) Post 318 Saturday. They were scheduled to play Quincy (Ill.) Post 37 in one semifinal Sunday morning, with Post 499 and the defending champion O’Fallon (Mo.) West Jaguars — who won the tournament on a similar tiebreaker in 2009 — due to meet for the other berth in Sunday afternoon’s title game.
Ada is scheduled to host the Oklahoma City Ambassadors in a doubleheader Tuesday, but Graham — whose club has played its home games this summer at either East Central University or Roff High School — said those games could be cancelled unless he can line up a place to play them.
“Right now, I’m trying to get a field,” he explained. “ECU is under construction, and Byng (where the doubleheader was originally to be played) and Ada (where the Braves played their home games in 2009) are working on their fields, too. July is the only time they can work on them.”
Graham, the head baseball coach at Holdenville High School, said he is also still looking for a site to play the zone tournament, which will have Ada hosting McAlester for the right to advance to next week’s state tournament in Bartlesville.
“We might end up playing the zone at Holdenville if we can’t find another field,” he said. “I’ll make that decision (today).”