Baseball: Naperville Huskies hope to keep on ‘rolling’ in state tournament

Their rally cry is “let’s get the train rolling.” The sign says it on their dugout.

The U-12 Naperville Huskies baseball train is rolling south this weekend.

Following wins in sectional and divisional tournaments, the Huskies are headed this weekend to the Little League Intermediate All-Star State Tournament in south suburban Alsip. The four-team, double-elimination event starts Saturday, the winner advancing to the Central Region Tournament in Kalamazoo, Mich.

This is the first year Naperville has fielded an intermediate travel team. Little League’s intermediate level, established three years ago, is a step up from majors and incorporates rules such as leadoffs, balks and pickoffs. The mound is 50 feet from home plate, with bases 70 feet apart.

Tryouts for the Naperville team were held last July, with 12 boys selected for the quasi All-Star team.

The Huskies, who are in Naperville League’s National Division, have played a “travel light” schedule, playing teams from within Naperville as well as towns like Elgin, Joliet and Bartlett.

“Because the (intermediate) division is fairly new, we’ve had varying levels of competition,” Huskies manager Jeff Dalton said. “The good thing is we’ve had some strong competition, but the flip side is every kid has pitched and played infield.”

The 12-year-olds will all eventually feed into Naperville North. A thrill during the season was working out with the Naperville North freshman team.

“It was an invaluable experience,” Dalton said.

Dalton acknowledged that each of these boys would be “the guy” on their majors team. Even though some only play half the time, they’ve bought into the team concept.

“They’ve really embraced their roles,” Dalton said. “As with all youth sports, when parents buy in, it makes it easier and the parents have been fantastic.”

A breakthrough moment for the Huskies came at a Memorial Day tournament they won in West Chicago.

“That really gave them some swagger,” Dalton said.

Playoffs have been mostly a smooth ride, with one notable exception.

In the Huskies’ sectional opener last week in Burbank, they watched as an 11-4 lead against Brookfield evaporated in a game that featured steady drizzle and a 25-minute rain delay. Down 12-11, they rallied for a 16-12 win.

“We’ve dubbed that the ‘rain game,’” Dalton said. “The boys really showed what they’re made of.”

The Huskies first game Saturday will come against Evergreen Park.

“It will be a tough road to hoe winning this, but the boys have dared to dream,” Dalton said. “Being the first year, I’d say this has been a great success.”

Team members include Francis Bristow, Michael Bruebach, Timmy Dalton, Connor Genovese, Tommy Hayes, Ryan Heger, Luke Hoeppel, James Matern, Ryan Rechtorik, Garrett Ricca, Cliff Vickers and Ben Wright. Dalton’s coaches are Cliff Vickers, Brian Wright, Steve Bruebach and Scott Hoeppel.

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