Ferndale prepped to defend state title

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 8, 2014 

The small, the athletic and the perfectionist. Ferndale 11U baseball players Evan Rehberger, Ethan Brooks and Greg Roberts all have different challenges but all three will be extremely vital to Ferndale's 11U Cal Ripken baseball team's chances of repeating as state champions.

The 10U team won the 2013 state title but went 0-4 at the regional tournament. The 2014 team, which returned eight players from the championship squad, has gone 29-8 in summer tournaments and coach Hank Schwartz feels his team is ready to make a return trip to regionals.

"I feel we have what it takes as far as players to get the job done," Schwartz said in a phone interview. "We just have to make sure we stay focused and throw strikes, swing the bat and limit errors. We do that and we'll win state."

Ferndale has the luxury of defending the title in front of the home crowd July 9 to July 13 at ConocoPhillips Sportsplex Baseball Fields.

Read more here: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2014/06/23/3715122/ferndale-to-host-2014-11u-cal.html#storylink=cpy. The team earned the right to host the first Washington State Tournament on the west side of the Cascade Mountains in 10 years.

For the players, homefield advantage means family and friends are in the bleachers, something more special to 10-year-olds than many might think.

"When we travel around, we can get homesick," Ferndale catcher Greg Roberts said in a phone interview. "Plus a lot of family and friends can come and watch so it's just really fun."

To be the hosts and the defending state champs puts a lot of pressure on the players, but they are able to handle it after dealing with the target on their backs all season long, Schwartz said.

"Anything less than a state championship would be a disappointment," Schwartz said. "These kids know they entered the season as defending champs. Everyone is out to beat us. We've accepted that challenge."

The thirteen players who make up Ferndale's squad are all important. Rehberger, Brooks and Roberts are just three to watch.

SMALL IN STATURE, BIG IN HEART

Second baseman Evan Rehberger is far from the biggest guy on Ferndale's squad, but the importance of his play is unquestioned.

Rehberger is one of eight players who went to regionals last year and he wants to avenge the 0-4 record compiled at the tournament.

"It was awesome to win state," Rehberger said in a phone interview. "It was such a good feeling. I want to feel that again. The team struggled at regionals but I'm excited for it again."

Rehberger's ability to respond to mistakes is what separates him from the pack, Schwartz explained. If he makes an error, he doesn't let it bother him. He will get right back into the action.

"As a coach that's what you want to see," Schwartz said, adding that Rehberger's not one to make many errors and is solid on defense.

Rehberger's bat is coming around too. After struggling early in 2014, he is peaking at the right time and having a second baseman that can hit is always an asset.

He peaked in the state tournament last year and Rehberger has all the confidence he can do it again.

"This year at state, I hope to play well," Rehberger said. "Last year, I did pretty well and think I'll do the same this year."

LEARNING THE ROPES

First baseman Ethan Brooks has only been playing baseball for two years, but hasn't had any troubles picking up the intricacies of the game.

Brooks is a three-sport athlete. He plays football in the fall, basketball in the winter and since he wasn't doing anything in the spring, he took up baseball.

He immediately became one of the bigger kids on the team and has excelled at first base.

"He's got a long way to go, but he's picking it up," Schwartz said. "He'll be an important piece to moving forward in state."

For Brooks, it's been exciting learning a new sport and he's looking forward to winning state. First, he expects to get a few hits to get his team there.

"It'll be awesome (if we win state)," Brooks said in a phone interview. "I haven't ever done something big like that so it'd be cool."

SEEKING PERFECTION

Coach Schwartz describes catcher Greg Roberts as a "five-tool guy." He can hit, catch, throw, pitch and run the bases.

As starting catcher, Roberts is one the most important players on the field. He must run the infield, keep the ball in front of him and throw baserunners out.

Roberts does it all with ease.

"I can block a ball. I got a strong arm. I can throw down to second. I know how to tag people," Roberts said in a phone interview. "The coach says I'm just far better than others in my catching ability."

With responsibility comes pressure. Roberts tries to not let that get to him, but he'll admit that it's difficult.

"Sometimes the pressure gets to you a little," Roberts said. "You feel like you have to do your best, you feel like you have to be perfect. When you don't, then you get down on yourself."

Roberts' perfectionism isn't always detrimental. He uses it as an asset as much as he can.

"The good thing about (perfectionism) is when you do good, you feel really good," Roberts said.

Schwartz knows Roberts will eventually outgrow his perfectionism, but for now Roberts qualities will help Ferndale repeat as state champions.

Roberts played for Bellingham last season before moving to Ferndale last fall. Certainly, Ferndale is glad to have him.

"It's been a pleasure," Schwartz said. "We're very fortunate he moved out to Ferndale."

Reach Joshua Hart at 360-715-2851 or joshua.hart@bellinghamherald.com.

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