Expert Express D-Backs produce stellar season

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR STAFF
mbirchfield@starhq.com

   No team showed as much determination as the Expert Express Diamondbacks did this season in Babe Ruth baseball.
   After being considered just one of the top three teams, the Diamondbacks proved themselves the best by posting an impressive overall record of 21-1 on the year.
   "I play as an underdog team, because if you have a good team, then that's the way you have to play," said Diamondbacks manager Norman Markland. "If you can keep that in the kids heads that they are the underdog, then it just seems like you can get a little more out of them."
   Winners of the pre-season and post-season tournaments, as well as the regular season championship also, the Diamondbacks did it by not accepting their status as the team to beat.
   The experience they possessed along with a great group of up-and-comers, the Diamondbacks were able to put it all together to be the best team all year long.
   "We had a host of quality 15 and 14 year olds coming back, and we had a good draft with the 13 year olds, which is critical with the one or two spots you always have to fill," said Markland.
   The key to their success was the strength from the mound, which was led by 15-year-old Cory Nave and 14-year-old Travis Bishop.
   "I leaned on our 15-year-old pitcher Cory Nave this season," said Markland. "He pitched 10 games for us and had 94 strikeouts, and Travis Bishop pitched six games and had 52 strikeouts."
   This was the third year in a row that the Diamondbacks have won the championship, but it wasn't done without kids stepping up to fill spots that were needed.
   "We had to have players step it up this season, and Cory had some big shoes to fill, and that's what he did," said Markland. "It's what helped us have the kind of run that we had."
   An amazing 122 runs were scored by the Diamondbacks, which allowed just 22 runs for the opposition, so when there are stats like this, then things are going to be good throughout the season.
   "I figured it up, and it was like every six runs to one (for the opposition), so when you're scoring like that and are ahead five runs, then you'll win ball games," said Markland.
   Even though the Diamondbacks defense was relentless, the hitting aspect was not as good as Markland thought it might be.
   "We hit the ball sporadically this season, but not quite like I thought we should," said Markland.
   The leading hitter for the Diamondbacks was Nick McNeal, while Travis Bishop and Kevin Jessee added some offensive spark.
   "Nick McNeal was our leading hitter at .564, and Travis Bishop was close to that," said Markland. "Kevin Jessee was another guy who came in and hit the ball well for us."
   The bats didn't really come along for the Diamondbacks until towards the end of the year, when it counted the most.
   "Towards the end of the season, in probably the last six games going into the tournament, we started hitting the ball," said Markland.
   In their final game of the year, the Diamondbacks shined at the plate by capturing some big hits to turn away the second-place team.
   "I had Nick McNeal come up and hit back-to-back home runs, and Cory Nave followed up with one after his," said Markland. "When you get teams down like that and have the pitching we did, then it just seems to sink teams a little further."
   One of the added keys that the Diamondbacks improved on throughout the year was the improvement of their base running.
   "We had an aggressive base-running team like we have with our all-star teams," said Markland. "My philosophy is if we can put the ball in the air, then it has a chance of getting by someone."
   Few times this season the Diamondbacks trailed. I their only loss, they trailed by as many as five runs to only lose by one.
   "We were down 5-0, and we came back with aggressive base running and good pitching," said Markland. "We didn't give up and showed a lot of heart, and that's how I measure a good quality baseball team -- by not giving up and staying competitive."