Warriors ready for California adventure

POULSBO — A group of North Kitsap baseball players is taking a trip to the south land.

The North Kitsap Warriors, a select baseball team comprised of 12-year-old boys from Poulsbo, Kingston and Suquamish will compete in the United States Speciality Sports Association AA World Series from July 23-29 in Chino Hills, Calif.

The Warriors are guaranteed eight games in the World Series and will play those games in perhaps one of the most sought after facilities youth baseball has to offer — the Big League Dreams baseball complex in Chino Hills.

“The fields are replicas of fields in the major leagues,” said Warriors manager Eric Milyard. “Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, the Polo Grounds, Forbes Field and Wrigley Field are some of those fields they’re modeled after. Playing on those kinds of fields is something they will always remember.”

The road to the big show that is the World Series went through Bremerton in late-May.

The Warriors punched their ticket to California after nabbing first place out of 12 teams at the Armed Forces Day Tournament in Bremerton during Memorial Day weekend.

In the semi-finals, they conquered their long time nemesis.

“Winning that was big. Some of the best select teams in the state were there,” Milyard said. “We beat the South Hill Knights (Puyallup) in the finals. They hadn’t lost a game in three years.”

Milyard said the victory over the Knights was especially sweet, considering it was near the top of the list of the team’s goals heading into the season.

“It was one of our goals to beat those guys and we did. Our guys felt good about it,” he said. “After beating them our confidence was so high and we blew the doors off our next opponent in the championship game.”

The team began practicing in February, and has competed in 10 tournaments since the beginning of play in April.

“We have played all over western Washington,” Milyard said.

The Warriors have participated in tournaments in Lynden, Bremerton, Tacoma, Seattle and Olympia.

Players making the trek to Chino Hills include Brian Bratlien, Cody Combs, Shane Crowell, K.T. Deam, Eli Fultz, Andrew Mattingly, Josh McLeod, A.J. Milyard, J.T. Nettleton, Ethan Syverson and Jackson Suter. Assistant coaches Charles Deam and Kelly Syverson will be making the trip as well.

Milyard credits his squad’s respectable 33-10 record due to the Warriors astute ability to make contact with the ball.

“We don’t have a lot of big hitters who can hit the ball a long ways but we do have guys who can slap it around,” he said. “We’re pretty good at moving our runners up and scoring runs. We do the little things we need to do.”

Due to the team’s grueling schedule it has followed since beginning practice in February, Milyard has decided to dial it down a notch in preparation for the USSSA AA World Series.

“I want them to have fun and be relaxed,” he said. “There won’t be too much pressure on them in practice.”

While Milyard wants his team to enjoy their trip, he’s hopeful his squad won’t lose sight of the task at hand.

“I told them they can enjoy their trip like a vacation as much as they want until they get on the baseball field,” he said. “Once we hit the field, we will be all business.”

Teams from California, Arizona and Texas are expected to be in attendance. Milyard knows squads from those states will be especially competitive.

“A lot of those teams play all year round and that gives them a little bit of an advantage,” he said. “I feel our team can stay competitive against them. We just have to do what we do and everything will take care of itself.”

Milyard feels he’s just as excited as his players are about the World Series.

“I have never been on a trip like this before,” he said. “It’s going to be an experience for everyone. It’s going to be a blast. I am getting pumped up right now just talking about it.”

The talented 12 year olds will be making a name for themselves for years to come, Milyard said.

“Every kid on this team has a bright future in baseball,” he said. “You will hear about these kids when they reach high school. They all are great ballplayers.”