Junior 17ers ready for TOC

By The Mercury

The American Legion Manhattan Manko Junior 17ers were just a hit away from qualifying for the state tournament in 2011. They hope to get over the hump in 2012 as they begin their season on Thursday in the Tournament of Champions.

“We’re excited to get back on the field and we’re looking forward to getting that opportunity again (to try and reach state),” Junior head coach Dan Rumsey said.

Rumsey, who played his college baseball at Kansas State, is in his second summer as the head coach of the Junior team, and he said there’s an added comfort level that comes heading into year two.

“I think we have four or five guys back from last year’s team,” he said. “Most of them are freshmen who were on the C team in the spring but that’s a step up from what we had last year. As a second-year coach it’s good to have those four or five guys back as a nucleus knowing how I coach so they can help out the guys who have never been with me before. Then everybody else can fall in line behind them.”

Manko begins tournament play against the Salina Hawks at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday at Tointon Family Stadium. The Junior field consists of just five teams, with the top four advancing to championship play on Sunday.

On the field, Manko, which will play two games on Friday and one on Saturday, plans on playing an entertaining style of baseball for fans to come out and watch this season.

“I like to be aggressive on the base paths,” Rumsey said. “I’m a hit-and-run type of coach. I like to move the runners and be aggressive. It’s fun baseball — fun for people to come out and watch.”

The 17ers have depth on the mound, going eight-deep.

“We have eight arms,” he said. “We’re pretty confident in what they can do. They showed confidence on the mound during tryouts so we’re looking forward to seeing what they can do in game situations.”

Ultimately, Rumsey hopes that depth on the hill, coupled with aggressive baserunning, will lead to an appearance at the state tournament — though that’s just one of the goals for his team this year.

“As a team the goal is always to get to state and win it of course,” he said. “As individuals I told them (Monday) if they can actually come up to me at the end of the summer, look me in the eye and say they actually got better at some facet of their game — whether it is hitting to the opposite field, or a pitcher throwing better off-speed and developing a changeup or something — then we as coaches did our jobs. That’s what we’re looking for is kids developing their skills.”

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