Second title in three years for this group of players

Photo Credit: COURTESY OF JARED HANSEN - North Marion PRYDE's fifth and sixth grade Junior Federal team celebrates its 2014 state championship, the second title for this group of athletes in the past three seasons.A whirlwind season that began in March came to an exciting end in July when North Marion’s Junior Federal baseball team capped its 2014 season with 15 straight wins and its second Junior Baseball Organization championship in three years.

North Marion PRYDE’s team of fifth- and sixth-graders coached by Jared Hansen went 40-7 overall, 15-2 in league, in its quest for a state championship that began five months ago.

“I talked to the boys about what they wanted to accomplish, and we got together in March and they said they wanted to win a state championship,” Hansen said. “We had very high expectations coming into the season from the kids, myself and the parents.”

Eight of the team’s 11 kids won a state championship with Hansen two years. Because of the split age groups, the team was divided among different divisions in 2013, but with the gang back together this year, everyone was keen on defending their 2012 title.

“We knew it was going to be tough to win state again, but that’s what we set as our goal.”

The team realized its goal on July 20, beating Sherwood 8-7 in extra innings to sweep the best of three championship series. Although the game was hosted at Hopkins Elementary in Sherwood, Hansen said a healthy contingent of North Marion fans came out in force to support their team and help even the odds.

“I think they had a little bit of a home field advantage, but we kind of took that away from them by beating them in the first game,” Hansen said.

North Marion thumped Sherwood 15-6 to open the series, hitting two home runs in the first three at-bats to put a definitive stamp that this was the team to beat.

The second game was much more even, with each team trading streaks of runs. Sherwood went up 4-0 before North Marion responded with seven unanswered runs to take a 7-4 lead in the top of the fifth.

A misfire by North Marion allowed Sherwood to score three unearned runs in the bottom of the fifth to tie the score at 7-7, but the Huskies kept their composure, having been in a high-pressure championship game before.

“That really paid dividends for them,” Hansen said. “Eight of them had all been through that, and they knew how to win in big games. They really stepped up.”

The two teams traded scoreless frames in the sixth to force extra innings, where North Marion took an 8-7 lead in the top of the seventh.

With their season on the line, Sherwood was able to put a runner on third base, threatening to tie the game, but the Huskies would not be denied and shut the door on their opponents to write the final chapter in their storybook season.

“They were into it, they were dedicated and they did it,” Hansen said. “It was great to see them set a goal and then be able to accomplish that goal.”

The 23 runs the team scored in the championship series against Sherwood was no fluke. The Huskies paved their way to the state championship through their tremendous offensive output.

“It was an absolutely outstanding hitting team — the best hitting team for youth baseball I’ve ever seen,” Hansen said. “They just really mashed the ball from top to bottom of the batting order.”

Seven players hit above .300 throughout the season, including five who hit .400 or better.

Isaac Hansen led the team in hits (69), doubles (16), home runs (7) while pacing the Huskies with a .552 average. Teammate Nic Iliyn was not far behind, batting .545 while leading the team with a .636 on-base percentage and 82 runs scored.

As a team, North Marion hit .384 throughout the season, but come championship time, the Huskies upped their output even more, batting a crisp .440 in the state tournament and .486 in the county tournament.

By comparison, North Marion’s opponents batted just .242 in 47 games, Hansen said.

Although the team enjoyed racking up the wins, Hansen wanted to make sure the team was never invested entirely in victories at the expense of fun.

“We wanted to make sure that we didn’t lose sight of having fun playing baseball rather than getting wrapped up in having to win all the time,” Hansen said.

The team also tried to look beyond baseball to take away lessons that could be utilized long after kids put down the bats. Hansen asked his athletes for four things during the season — effort, attitude, self-motivation and self-discipline.

“Those four things are not only going to make you successful in baseball, but also successful in life,” Hansen said. “I want to see these guys developing skills that will make them successful in life, not just in playing baseball. And I really saw them do that.”

With the championship in the bag, the team will once again split into different groups to play fall baseball. The group will once again have the chance to defend its title in 2016 when the kids are in seventh- and eighth-grade and just about to enter high school.

After that, Hansen is free to hand his kids off to North Marion High School coach Randy Brack and the rest of the Huskies’ baseball program to see how well they can do against the state’s best 4A players.

“That’s part of what we’re trying to do is get kids ready to win a state championship for Randy Brack,” Hansen said.

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