FARMINGTON — Strike Zone Baseball is known for its success at the Connie Mack level, but now it's adding titles at the younger levels as well.
Strike Zone's 11-and-under team captured the U.S. Specialty Sports Association World Series title last weekend in Las Cruces.
The team competed against teams from New Mexico and Texas, defeating a club from El Paso, Texas, 11-0 to win the title.
"We played them two other times in a round robin game and in the semifinals and handled them every time," said Strike Zone coach Jeff Kiraly. "The kids were very excited. We lost our first game 6-5 then ran the table, winning six in a row."
The team is made up 12 players, nine from Farmington and three from Albuquerque, and the coaches believe that having quality players throughout the lineup has helped them be successful.
"Our team is so effective because all of our kids are basically the same. We don't have any real superstars. They are very interchangeable," said Strike Zone coach Mark Wulfert. "We have six or seven pitchers. I guess when other teams wear out their ace or their No. 2 guy, they run into some trouble, but as the tournaments get deeper, we get stronger."
The kids have their sights set on a large goal as they prepare for the Triple Crown World Series July 30 to Aug. 4 in Steamboat Springs, Colo.
Strike Zone will be among 56 teams competing for the title after winning a qualifying tournament in December in Lake Havasu, Ariz.
"Our kids were pretty excited to win, but they also know that the granddaddy of them all is coming at the end of the month," Wulfert said. "Realistically, they think they can win it and our goal is to finish in the top 10."
Both coaches agree that the tournament schedules will help the kids as they move toward play high school and Connie Mack ball.
"I think it's huge and that's why we do it. The competition level outside of the state of New Mexico is great," Kiraly said. "I think it's good for us to travel, so you're not shocked when you see a higher level of competition. If you just play in Pee Wee Reese and Little League, then I don't think you get the competition you need to succeed at a higher level."
The coaches said attending these tournaments wouldn't be possible without the support of Strike Zone and other sponsors in the community.
"This isn't cheap. We have about 10 sponsors that give a few hundred dollars, but Strike Zone is the backbone of our team," Wulfert said. "They give us the use of the facility whenever we want it. Every day, four or five of the kids are here. Them and their parents put in a lot of time and a lot of effort and that's what it takes to compete. We'll finish the season with somewhere around 80 games, so it's a big commitment."
Strike Zone is hoping to add more youth teams to the 11-and-under and Connie Mack teams in the near future.
"That's our eventual plan, we've started slowly with our first year of running the facility," said Strike Zone owner Patricia Thornton. "We'll eventually start sponsoring a range of kids in different age groups. Our goal when we took the facility over is to give these kids a great place to come and hang out. The key is getting quality coaches."
Joshua Perry covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jperrysuu.