Youth baseball teams from across South Carolina – including a few from the CSRA – will venture to Aiken this weekend to participate in the Cal Ripken State Tournament held at Citizens Park starting on Friday. It’s not the first time the tournament has made a stop in the CSRA. Citizens Park hosted the regionals of the tournament in 2011, and North Augusta’s Riverview Park has played host to the youth baseball tournament in the past as well.
Pool play will be held on Friday and Saturday, and the championship will be held on Sunday.
There will be four brackets for ages 9-12, and everyone involved in the Aiken youth baseball program has added incentive to be excited about hosting, as the 11U team from Aiken will be looking to repeat the success their title runs in the previous two seasons as 9 and 10 year olds.
“That’s what makes it even more special for us this year,” Aiken Athletic Program Director Seth Holley said. “It’s always a lot of fun for us, but having been around baseball for so long, it’s really cool to see the kids go for a three-peat. It will also get the locals excited to come out and cheer on the kids.”
Holley expects a strong performance from the Aiken squads in the field. The program has seen success in past years. The current 11U team advanced to the Southeast Regional in Charleston in 2013 when it played in the 10U bracket.
The 2013 Aiken program also sent a 12U squad to the Southeast Regional, after it finished second in the state tournament.
Teams from North Augusta, Mount Pleasant, Goose Creek, West Ashley and James Island will be participating in the upcoming tournament. The winner of the tournament will advance to the Southeast Regional, which will be held in various locations depending on age group. Holley added that the chance to travel is a great incentive for the kids.
“There are a couple regional sites in Florida, one in North Carolina and one in Tennessee. It’s a great chance for whoever wins to visit some other places and play baseball there,” Holley said.
Holley also stressed the benefit of the tournament to the area. The event brings people from different areas of the state and gives the area’s economy and tourism a boost. This season, the tournament will also feature a tourism tent to give patrons a chance to learn about the options Aiken has to visit. The outside opportunities are always a big factor when it comes to Aiken hosting events like the tournament according to Holley.
“We always gets good feedback from visitors. It’s an honor for us to be able to put on such a good event,” Holley said. “We hope to be able to host a regional at some point down the road.”
The program thought about hosting a regional next year but didn’t feel it was the ideal time since they would also have to juggle being the host of the Dixie Youth World Series. Since Aiken will host the World Series next year it will get an automatic berth in the event. Holley said the large tournaments like this weekend’s and next years Dixie World Series being held in the area will only help the area’s youth leagues get players involved. He pointed to the programs at Citizens Park and Riverview Park as evidence. Both programs are heavily represented in the weekend tournament. The two are also familiar with each other as they have played over the course of the year in various age groups, including in a rec tournament two weeks ago.
“It’s great for the baseball in the area,” Holley said. “One of my goals has been to get as many local boys involved in baseball as possible. It’s never much fun when you have the event in a city without a local team represented, so we do our best to build quality teams.
The tournament will kick off Friday at 9 a.m. with the Aiken 9U team taking on Mount Pleasant.
Eric Russell covers sports for the Aiken Standard. Follow him on Twitter @EricJ_Russell.
WHAT: Cal Ripken Baseball State Tournament
WHERE: Citizens Park
WHO: Teams from Aiken, Goose Creek, James Island, North Augusta, Mount Pleasant and West Ashley
AGES: Brackets for teams in 9-, 10-, 11- and 12-year-old divisions