By Seth Kinker, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Dexter Little League All Star 12U team took the first step in trying to reach the Little League World Series last week, winning District 3 to advance to States.
Dexter hosted District 3, made up of their team, Lincoln, Ypsilanti-American, Jackson Northwest, and Jackson Southwest.
In a double elimination style tournament Dexter went undefeated, earning a bye in the first round as the host before defeating Jackson Northwest on July 10 (3-1), Ypsi- American on July 11 (16-11) and Jackson Northwest on July 13 (15-1) in the championship game.
The team is comprised mostly of boys from Dexter, who have played in the local Dexter Little League. Tournament teams from this league are determined through a nomination and selection process from the coaches in the league. The teams were selected around June 1.
Head coach Dennis Saloman, Assistant Coach Grant Haralson, and Assistant coach Brian Arnold got involved coaching because of their kid’s involvement in the league. The fourth coach on the team, Dennys, is Dennis’ father.
Saloman and Haralson, friends before becoming coaches, and Arnold have all coached little league before.
Saloman and Haralson have coached Little League against each other the past few years and coach an 11U travel team together as well. Arnold and his family moved to Dexter two years ago and have been involved in little league since, after being involved in little league in Chicago, where they moved from.
Dexter played in only two tournaments prior to last week, warm up tournaments against other local teams to help prepare for Districts. Despite that short amount of time, the coaches have already seen the team begin to jell.
“(My favorite part is) watching the kids get better, seeing them improve,” said Arnold “You can see in just the three weeks we’ve been doing it as a team, massive improvement in a lot of them.”
“Team comradery, seeing the kids smile and have fun with each other,” added Saloman. “They did a sleepover for somebodies’ birthday, I think those are the memories they’ll carry. Playing with your buddies and classmates, that’s why little leagues so important you get to play with your friends.”
As the week progressed Saloman said the biggest improvement he saw from the team was finishing a game, on July 11, Dexter jumped out to a double digit run lead before losing it late only to have their own bats come alive to keep the lead and preserve the win.
“Yesterday was a resiliency test, just being able to stick together,” said Salomon to The Sun Times on July 12 after a 16-11 victory the prior day. “We fell apart in another tournament where it snowballed, and we couldn’t get back on track. It was nice to see we still had enough to keep overcoming our challenges to overcome it in the end there, we won a close game against a good team. Just being able to finish out games has been the biggest improvement I’ve seen.”
In the championship game on July 13 the bats stayed hot as they defeated Jackson Northwest 15-1 for the District championship, ending the game early due to the mercy rule.
“This isn’t a team that’s been playing together a long time, only a handful were playing together,” said Saloman after the win on July 13. “The last four weeks is the first they’ve actually been a team, crazy to see it come together. It started with a mentality, an attitude that we were going to play for Dexter, play for the team. Sometimes for an 11-12 year old to take that concept you know ‘hey you’re gonna be on the bench but if your name is called you got to be ready to help the team’, I think that’s the mentality we took, and the boys slowly came along and started believing in that.
The team planned to celebrate the win with a trip to Aubree’s Pizzeria and Grill.
Next up for Dexter is States, taking place in St. Clair from July 20 – 25. The team will have three guaranteed games in pool play, with the knockout stage extending into the next week if they make it through.