Clanton Memorial tourney expands to 22 teams




For the first time in several summers, the Clanton Memorial Baseball Tournament will have the true look and feel of a big-time event.

Sixteen teams will compete Friday through Sunday in the 19 and under division of the 26th annual baseball tourney and an additional six will compete in the 16 and under division.

"We just sent invitations out to as many teams as we could and see what would happen," said Jared Rutti, sports director at the Garden City Recreation Commission and tournament organizer. "Each team is required to provide two dozen baseballs and they had to send us a $250 check ahead of time. At the end of the tournament, they'll get their $250 check back so it really just costs them the two dozen baseballs. We knew we had to do something to get the teams away from other tournaments and get them to Garden City."

As a result of their efforts, Rutti and the organizing committee will have teams coming from Omaha in Nebraska; Grand Junction, Colorado Springs, Denver, Lamar and Hugo, Colo., and a number of Kansas teams.

With the large field in the 19 and under division, teams have been placed in four pools of four teams each. Those groups will play a round-robin on Friday and Saturday and then be seeded into brackets for Sunday's final day. That portion of the tournament will wrap up on Sunday with the lower three seeds facing other similar seeded teams for one game while the top four seeds will play in the semifinals at 9 and 11 a.m. with the championship game scheduled for 3 p.m., all of which will be played at Williams Stadium.

For Friday and Saturday's schedule, games will be played at both Williams Stadium and Clint Lightner Stadium as well as a number of the 16 and under games set for play at Academy Field, just north of Spruce Street and west of the US Highway 83 bypass.

"We're very happy and excited with the turnout and we think we've got some quality teams," Rutti said. "It will take about 10 umpires for us to cover all the games with two-man crews so they will be very busy."

Rutti said plans for 2014 call for an even bigger event that would extend over multiple weekends, with one age group competing one weekend and other age groups on a separate weekend.

"We'd like to do the 19 and unders a week earlier next year," Rutti said.

Both the Finney County Blues and Finney County Bandits will be competing, the Blues in the 19 and under division and the Bandits in the 16 and under bracket.

With the 16 and under division having only six teams, the format calls for all teams to play five games in a round-robin competition.

Each of the local teams will open play on Friday with one game, the Bandits facing Ulysses at 9 a.m. at Williams Stadium while the Blues will take on the Alma Chargers in the late game at 9 p.m., also at Williams Stadium. The Bandits also play at 5 p.m. against the Butler Cubs of El Dorado at Clint Lightner. The Blues will then play twice on Saturday, at 11 a.m. against Minneola and at 9 p.m. against Newton with both taking place at Williams. The Bandits will play twice on Saturday at Academy Field, the fist at 9 a.m. against the Widefield Gladiators of Colorado Springs and then at 3 p.m. against Colby.

For the Blues, coach Lyle Befort will bring a team into the tourney with a glossy 18-5 record, but also with some caution after playing in Pueblo, Colo., just two weekends ago where the going was tough.

"We've had a lot of good things going, but when we played in Pueblo, we really got it handed to us," Befort said. "We've got some really good teams coming in, with Cherry Creek (Denver area), Grand Junction and Omaha. We'll have to play some of our best baseball if we want to be playing Sunday afternoon. I hope we learned from the Colorado experience that we have to tighten our defense and just play overall better baseball."

Thus far, the Blues have been hitting at a .352 clip on offense with Ian Jones leading the way at .586. Marcos Zapata is hitting .500 while Jake Curran is next at .489. Leadoff hitter Robert Tomlin is hitting .342 and has stolen 18 bases in 19 attempts.

The pitching has been anchored by Edgar Montoya, Isaiah Rodriguez and Curran, who have put together records of 4-1, 3-1 and 3-1. Overall, the mound crew has compiled a team earned-run-average of 2.85 with Ivan Gutierrez and Mario Montoya also pitching well with 2-1 and 2-0 marks.

For the Bandits, coach Joe Kraft's squad was 6-10 before Tuesday night's road doubleheader at Lamar, Colo. He is looking for his team to improve and sees the home tournament as a way to gain some momentum.

"We've got a number of kids who have been doing a good job of hitting," Kraft said. "We've got to get this group to come together because we have not been hitting on all cylinders yet. We've got to remain positive and as long as we take care of the hitting, fielding, and pitching, we'll be competitive."

Kraft was not sure who he would have on the mound for Friday's opener, but the starter would likely come from among Nick Laurelz, Syrus Schwartz or Martin Torres.

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