It’s a new experience for the area’s American Legion baseball representative.
And they’re soaking the celebrity treatment up.
“Just got to the hotel,” said Carson Foreman. “They chartered a bus to pick us up and bring us here, have a host family, all of this and the hotel is taken care of by the Legion.”
It’s the prize for all the state champions and host team at Hastings, Nebraska, for the Mid-South Regional.
The Bandits open play at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday against Texarkana, Texas. At no point in the 25 seasons the team has existed have they made this trip — until now.
“The way I see it and have told our guys, we have nothing to lose,” said Mike Whitten, the coach the past two seasons after assisting Rusty Fulps until Fulps died in 2017. The Wagoner native is assisted by former Bulldog standout and son Preston Whitten.
“No one expected you to be here. Let’s go have fun.”
It’ll be a lot more fun if Whitten sees solid baseball.
“I’m super confident in our pitching. I feel we’re as deep as anyone on the mound which plays well in a tournament where you could go six or so games,” he said. “Offensively we can be a gap team but we’re not going to beat you hitting three or more home runs a game.
“The main thing is what I’ve been preaching in practice the last 10 days or so. Get bunts down, move runners over. Work on our fielding. That’s what our emphasis has been and I hope we’re ready.”
Three Rivers (27-6) has won five consecutive games and lost back-to-back only once, that in the Rusty Fulps Memorial Classic named after the Bandits’ long-time late coach and founder. In those losses against Combat Elite and Sandlot there were seven unearned runs, one ending in a one-run loss with 12 stranded runners.
“We’ve worked hard on those issues, trust me,” said Whitten.
Three Bandits are above .400 batting. Warner grad Foreman leads at .467, Jayce Roberts next at .451 and Tyson Fourkiller at .406. Foreman and Fourkiller, who graduated from Stilwell, will both play collegiately at Connors State.
Pitching is deep and the stats reveal it.
Brock Hendrix out of Berryhill has the highest ERA at 3.71 but is 3-1 on the year. The team average is 2.32. Foreman, 3-0, is at 0.82. Dan Merrill (4-1) out of Noah and bound for NEO leads the team in wins, with six different pitchers with three wins or more.
“The pitching has been great, especially at state,” Fourkiller said. “Our main job is remember what got us here, to get some runs across and help them out.”
The field the Bandits had to overcome to win state was thinned out by some teams having roster violations. Texarkana faced similar situations to earn their ticket.
Bowie County eliminated Texarkana 3-1 in the semifinals. Shortly thereafter, League City protested that Bowie County did not have a legal roster of 12, which was upheld by tournament officials who initially gave the championship to League City. But then Texarkana filed a protest which reversed the outcome of the semifinal, then won a pair of games over the previously unbeaten League City team.
Fremont, the Nebraska state champ, earned their first state title since 1943, a much longer wait than the Bandits over a 25-year history.
“Six teams have won 30 or more games,” Whitten said. “The only two that haven’t are us and Bryant, and the only reason we didn’t get to 30 is we got rained out too much.”
Whitten has gotten as much information on the upcoming experience as he could from the Bryant coach. Three Rivers hasn’t played Bryant, who beat Fort Smith in the winner’s bracket of the Arkansas state tournament. Three Rivers won one of three against Fort Smith.
“They’ve won their state like four or five times in a row. We’ve seen each other and he told me everyone will be similar enough that it’ll come down to who played their best solid fundamental baseball.
“That’s what I’ve preached to our kids. Have fun. If we play hard and execute and don’t win, I’ll be happy with that. If we go give it away, that’s different.”
Foreman understands that.
“We’re a pretty good ball club to be here, but no matter how good you are you have to be at the top of your game and everyone here is in that position. We’ve had good chemistry. We’ve just got to stay within ourselves.”
American Legion Region 4 Mid-South
At Duncan Field, Hastings, Nebraska
G1: Three Rivers Bandits vs. Texarkana, Texas, 9:30 a.m.
G2: Festus, Mo., vs. Emporia, Kan., 11:30 a.m.
G3: Sedalia, Mo., vs. Fremont, Neb., 4:30 p.m.
G4: Bryant, Ark., vs. Hastings, Neb., 6:30 p.m.
G5: Losers 1 and 3, 9:30 a.m.
G6: Losers 2 and 4, 11:30 a.m.
G7: Winners 1 and 3, 4:30 p.m.
G8: Winners 2 and 4, 6:30 p.m.
G9: Loser 7 vs. Winner 6, 9:30 a.m.
G10: Loser 8 vs. Winner 5, 11:30 a.m.
G11: Winners 7 and 8, 7 p.m.
G12: Loser 11 vs. Winner 9, 4:30 p.m.
G13: Winners 10 and 11, 7:30 p.m.
G14: Winner 12 vs. Winner 13, 1:30 p.m.