U-12 Mud Cats finish third at USSSA World Series

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By Mike Farner

 MOUNT WASHINGTON - The U-12 Kentucky Mud Cats, a team based in Mount Washington, capped off a successful season recently with a trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama for the USSSA Global World Series.

Coach Mike Breeden’s team rolled through pool play with a perfect record to qualify for the 8-team championship bracket. The Mud Cats won their opener before falling 8-4 to the Louisiana Bounty Hunters, the ninth-ranked team in the country. The Mud Cats were then awarded third place with a forfeit victory in the consolation game.

The USSSA event started with 32 teams from the southeast and after pool play, the teams were put into four different 8-team brackets.

(The USSSA World Series moniker is a little confusing. The USSSA World Series events are more like regional tournaments. There is more than one held each summer, but there is no advancement after each of the World Series events.)

Breeden joked that the prevailing thought for Midwest teams that play baseball is not to go south or to the southwest because teams in those regions play baseball year-round in good weather. The Mud Cats could have gone north or northeast to a World Series event but opted for the tough route with good results.

Other than the Louisville Lightning, the only other Kentucky team in the event, the rest of the teams were from Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.

The Mud Cats didn’t spend the entire spring and summer playing in USSSA events. The group did finish second in the Kentucky State Tournament at Fort Knox to qualify for the World Series.

In fact, the Mud Cats really didn’t get off to a strong start to the 2011 campaign. The final overall record was 48-20, but the team won 20 of its final 22 games for the big finish.

“We spent most of the year just playing in competitive open tournaments,” Breeden said recently. “Different teams will have them.”

The group also played in a competitive league at Beechmont with other U-12 traveling teams.

For USSSA purposes, the Mud Cats classified at AAA. The World Series in Gulf Shores had 14 major teams, 12 AAA teams and six AA teams.

This is the fifth year for the Mud Cat program. It started with a successful U-8 summer back in 2006 with Kevin Ezell (see story above) and Breeden coaching a team. After that season, Babe Ruth modified some age limits, splitting the group allowing Breeden to start a second Mud Cat squad. Unlike the U-13 group now, Breeden’s program spent less time within the Mount Washington Youth Baseball League.

While the program originally started with all Mount Washington players, some turnover in recent years has left the group with six players from Mount Washington and then seven more from either Spencer County or Louisville. Four of the Louisville players started in the Hikes Point League playing against the Mount Washington All-Star squads before merging into the Mud Cats.

In Gulf Shores, the Mud Cats opened pool play with a 9-2 victory over the Tuscaloosa Yellow Hammers and then later that day beat GTB Demolition 5-1. The on Friday, they completed pool play with a 5-4 win over Diamond Dogz Baseball (Texas) before finishing with a 7-2 victory over the Prattville (AL) Lions Baseball Club.

On Saturday, the Mud Cats opened Championship Bracket play with a 3-1 decision over the Proway Express (Texas) before the semi-final battle with the Louisiana Bounty Hunters.

Good fortune did not join the Mud Cats in that game. The Kentucky team was up 3-2 heading into the fifth inning when a four-hour rain delay halted play. The Bounty Hunters came out and scored six times in the top of the fifth inning. The Mud Cats responded with a run in the bottom of the frame and had the bases loaded when a line drive was nabbed down the first base line. The game ended there based on the time limit.

“We were very competitive,” Breeden noted.

The key in youth league tournaments is to have a deep pitching staff. USSSA allows teams to use a rolling-8 format. The Mud Cats used five pitchers in the six games they played and would have been in good shape if they had been forced to play the third-place game that was forfeited to them.

The five that pitched in tournament were Ethan Breeden, Mitchell Langley, Noah Wilson, Brandon Pfaadt and Kyle Alexander. The team had a sixth pitcher, but Kyle Nunn broke his leg at football practice the day before the team left for the tournament.

“That was the key,” Breeden said of the pitching staff doing well. “We knew that opening up on Thursday. We knew our first two pitchers would provide good things. The other kids are good pitchers, but we were playing high caliber teams so you never know.

“Then our defense was so strong throughout the tournament,” the coach added. “We played as well as we could defensively.”

The other major event for the team this summer was the Cooperstown Dream event in New York. The Mud Cats posted a 5-4 record in that 103-team event. Three of those games were broadcast on the internet. During that trip, the team visited the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Just with the two trips to Alabama and New York, Breeden estimated that the expenses exceeded $21,000 for the team. A lot of those funds were raised by the parents as they worked at Churchill Downs during the Oaks, Derby and the Breeder’s Cup as well as some of the Friday night races.

The USSSA World Series was the last event of the summer for the team. Most of the team members play other sports. A lot of things change between 12- and 13 year old play in baseball, but Breeden is already making plans to have a Mud Cat team next season.