This weekend, eight teams from both Texas and Arkansas will compete in the 12-year-old Cal Ripken Regional Tournament held at Bernard Holland Park in Benton.
Both the Bryant 12 year olds and Benton 12s will be participating in the tournament with Bryant scheduled to play at 2:30 p.m. Friday against Littlefield, Texas, and Benton to play Blytheville at 8 p.m.
Teams that qualified for the tournament are either state champions, such as Benton, which won the South Arkansas State Championship, or are runners-up or were invited to the tournament.
The Southwest Region is usually made up of teams from Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. But Louisiana, Oklahoma and Mississippi are not sending anybody, and Benton Optimist Club president Tim Bennett said he wasn’t even sure why New Mexico wasn’t sending anybody.
“I don’t know if the Cal Ripken Association is not very strong, or if it is because they don’t want to come because it is such a long distance,” Bennett said.
After making the switch from little league to the Cal Ripken Association, this is the first time the city of Benton has hosted a regional tournament.
“This is the first one we have ever had,” Bennett said. “They called us and asked us to host it. I had inquired about it and about a week later I got a call asking ‘Hey, we have this opening, do you want it?’”
The Benton 12s have appeared in five straight championship games, winning three of them. They also have won back-to-back regional championships, winning the Southwest Regional the last two years.
The team went to the Colorado for the Little League World Series as 10 year olds, and this year the World Series will be held in California Aug. 13-19, which consists of about 10 teams in the tournament.
The team roster includes Peyton Mitchell, Landon Walker, Buddy Riggan, Nic Murray, Jacob Cooper, Troy Quinn, Chance Armstrong, Kaleb Moody, Drew Chilton, Coltyn Lane, Ty Callahan, Timmy Bennett and Cole Treece. The team is coached by Bennett and Eric Chilton.
“I think it is awesome for the city of Benton and an opportunity for our youth baseball program,” Bennett said. “It gives recognition to our program.”
Bennett said he hopes there are a lot of fans and supporters at the tournament.
“I would hope there would be,” Bennett said. “These group of kids is the reason we got to host this tournament.”
The Benton 12s finished the year 14-0 after finishing the pre-state tournament 9-0 and the state tournament 5-0. They defeated Crossett, the runner-up, 23-8 and 19-4.
Really, their only close game of the year was Pine Bluff North, who they beat 12-10 thanks to a walk-off home run. Benton hit 15 home runs in the state tournament.
Callahan, who had never hit a home run in his life, had six home runs in the state tournament, and in the last two games went 8-10 with five home runs and 15 RBIs.
“It was incredible to see,” Bennett said.
The Bryant 12-and-under All-Stars took second at the district tournament at Bishop Park in June and played in the state tournament in Hamburg. Team members include Landon Abernathy, Ethan Cozzens, Dylan Davis, Lawson Fincher, Austin Hooper, Audrey Horen, Jared Morales, Jake Roedel, Kyle Sahr, Joseph Small, Logan Valestin and Diego Vargas.
The 46/60 team is coached by Rob Roedel with assistance from Keith Horn and Brian Hooper. In the championship game of the district tournament, Pine Bluff North defeated Bryant 13-8.
The opening ceremonies of the tournament are Friday between the third and fourth game, which is expected to begin around 7 or 7:30 p.m. There will be a banquet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in Holland Baptist Church’s Family Life Center in Benton.