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Stories Abound For The National Champs

Each year, thousands of young men take to the baseball diamond for what they hope will be an eventful spring and summer season playing American Legion Baseball.  For the lucky ones, having a great year earns you a trip to your league or state regional tournament.  Out of those thousands of teams, four hundred remain alive in mid-July for the state tournaments that take place across the country.  From there, just sixty-four teams remain.  Getting through your national regional and into the tournament every legion player dreams about, the ALB World Series, means your team is one of just eight left standing in the entire nation.

After a long and hot summer that featured a total of seventy-six baseball games for the Midwest City based Oklahoma Outlaws, they are alone atop the amateur baseball world.  They came to Spokane, Washington with high hopes of continuing the success they had endured so far this summer.  They knew one thing, they'd have to do without their top player.  Shortstop Jake Realmuto, who posted some of the gaudiest offensive numbers in the nation this year, had to leave the team before the tournament.  The star had previously committed to college baseball power Oklahoma State, but he was drafted in the third round (#104 overall) by the Florida Marlins in the spring.  With the deadline to sign a professional contract just a few days away, Realmuto inked a deal with the MLB team for a whopping $600,000.

Things didn't start off the way the Outlaws would have liked in national play, as they dropped  the first game of the Mid-South National Regional to Gonzales, Louisiana.  That ten inning affair lit a fuse under the Oklahoma state champs, propelling them to five straight victories to earn the World Series bid.  The team hit .307 in the tournament, and racked up an eye-popping thirty-one steals in six games.  They committed just eleven errors in that span, while posting a team era of 2.52.  Solid pitching, stellar defense, and an offense willing and able to play small ball.  It's the little things that so many teams try to do, but this year, nobody did them better.

Midwest City made a statement to Chesapeake, Virginia, and to the rest of the playing field in their first game of the World Series Friday afternoon.  They jumped all over the Mid-Atlantic champions, putting up eighteen runs in seven innings.  The effort was led by starting pitcher Kevin Hill, who struck out fifteen batters in just six innings of work.  The team amassed nineteen hits, every single one of which was a basehit.  

The Outlaws dropped just their tenth game of the season, 9-6, to Eden Prairie, Minnesota in the winner's bracket on day two.  Despite a solid offensive game, eight walks plagued pitcher Chris Mullins' effort to hold back the potent offense of the Central Plains champs.  

The loss dropped Midwest City into the loser's bracket, where they took on Southeast representative Kernersville, North Carolina on Sunday.  Behind a strong complete game outing by  Dalton Bernardi on the mound, the Oklahoma champs cruised to a 6-1 victory.  The top six batters in the order contributed eleven of the team's twelve total hits.  

Midwest City ace Kevin Hill took the mound on Monday against Las Vegas, Nevada, hoping to put his team into the tournament's final day.  He turned in another great performance, throwing the complete game and surrendering just five hits and an unearned run.  This time, it was the bottom of the order holding their own for the offense.  Turner Coon and Caleb Price combined for three hits and 5 rbi out of the eight and nine holes.

An Eden Prairie victory later in the day over Roseburg, Oregon cemented the championship matchup between the two teams who had met just a few days prior.  Eden Prairie was undefeated, and had to be beaten twice by the Mid-South champs for the National Championship.

The Outlaws took a big step towards securing their title hopes by handing Eden Prairie their first loss of the tournament in game fourteen, 11-6.  Midwest City was clinging to a 5-3 lead in the seventh when they broke the game open with a five run inning.  Chris Mullins pitched well and got the win, with Dakota Andrews and Clark Roberts coming in for relief duties.  The three combined to give up nine hits on five earned runs.  Josh Halbert led the offensive attack, posting two hits, two runs scored, and four rbis.

That forced a decisive game fifteen, where the winner would literally take all.  This is where the story takes an interesting turn.  With a tired pitching staff that had logged a ton of innings the past few weeks, Midwest City looked to Tyler Schuman to get them some quality innings.  Schuman had been sidelined since early May with a serious arm injury.  With no chance for a rehab appearance or a chance to acclimate himself to the pressures of postseason play, the Outlaws were hoping he could eat a few valuable innings.  Schuman dazzled, pitching five flawless innings.  He surrendered just one hit over that span, while striking out and walking two apiece.  By the time he was relieved of his duties, Midwest City had a five run lead they wouldn't relinquish.

Clark Roberts and Dalton Bernardi came on to close things out for the title, with Bernardi on the mound as things ended.  He and Greg Nelson led the offense, putting up three rbis each.  The Outlaws combined for sixteen hits, while giving up just five.  They had done the unthinkable, winning the 2010 American Legion Baseball World Series.  Their final record? A staggering 66-10.

Dalton Bernardi, the tournament's most valuable player, had a combined eighteen rbis in twelve national tournament games.  The team hit .346 over that span, while their pitching staff kept posted an opposing batting average of just .233.  The team stole 56 bases in the past two weeks, good enough for almost five swipes a game.  The strikeout to walk ratio for their pitchers was over two to one, and they continued their solid defense with twenty errors in the twelve games.

As we reflect on the 2010 ALB season, there's just one thing left to ponder.  What team will be standing atop the legion world a year from now?  Only time will tell, and that's the beauty of it.


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