Asked whether his baseball team would now be known simply as the Hagerstown PONY All-Stars or still as the Hagerstown PONY B All-Stars, manager John Phillips didn’t hesitate in answering.
“We’re B, baby. That’s who we are,” Phillips said. “When we get the banner from the region tournament, I’ll use a Sharpie to put a B next to Hagerstown if I have to.”
The team and its coaches wore that B like a badge of honor as they prepared for the East Zone Tournament in Manchester, N.H., this weekend, having beaten the Hagerstown A team twice to get to this point.
Hagerstown plays Friday night at 8 against the host team. The winner of this tournament advances to the PONY World Series in Washington, Pa., beginning Aug. 12.
If Hagerstown is to be the representative to come out of this double-elimination bracket, it will likely use the same formula it has used thus far — by stressing a full team effort.
“There’s 15 guys on this team and every single one of them has a role. And they’ve all embraced those roles,” Phillips said. “From about the third practice, you could see them coming closer and closer together. They’re in it for each other.”
The roles the players have taken can mean they don’t play in every game. Phillips mentioned pitcher Zach Andrews, the only 13-year-old on the team, who did not get to play in the region championship game.
“I asked him if he was ticked off that he didn’t get to play, and I told him I wanted him to be honest with me,” Phillips said. “He said he was. I told him he was my (pitcher) if we needed to play again. He was going to get his shot, he was going to throw. It didn’t faze him.
“If you’re on the team, you don’t play and you’re not ticked off, there’s something wrong.”
Phillips said he’s tried to make the All-Star experience an enjoyable one for his players. He hasn’t scheduled practices every night of the week. In fact, the team practiced only once between their tournament win on Sunday and their departure for Manchester on Thursday morning.
He has expected players to be focused when they do practice.
“We’re not going to go every night, but when we do, no goofing off,” Phillips said. “I want this to be fun, but we’re also here to win.”
Coach Russ Robinson echoed Phillips’ sentiment.
“You have to bust your butts to get to this point,” Robinson said. “The kids are here to win. If you’re not playing to win, what are you playing for?”
Hagerstown will lean on pitchers Cole Conrad and Jeff Bennett to get them into position to win the zone title. Conrad pitched a three-hitter in the B team’s first win over Hagerstown A and Bennett fired a four-hitter in the clincher.
“What B teams usually lack is confidence,” Robinson said. “That’s not a problem with this group.”