Owensboro Eastern has been a youth baseball pioneering team in Kentucky for a few decades.
There is a lot of pride involved for this Eastern 12U All-Stars ballclub, which will go to the Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken World Series in West Palm Gardens, Fla., on August 7-14.
“Not just Eastern, but Owensboro itself, it’s been awhile since Owensboro has put out a group of kids in this age group like this, and with Eastern it’s been years,” said John Milurn, who is the Eastern manager. “I grew up playing baseball over here. I moved to Texas when I got older and moved back, as soon as I moved back my son started playing ball, been over here every since. It’s fun to see this.”
Eastern’s home has long been the youth baseball field at Chautauqua Park.
Eastern won the Ohio Valley Regional in South Bend, Ind., last Sunday after playing almost flawlessly in the field throughout pool play and the championship rounds.
“We had multiple shutouts, very few errors,” Milburn said. “When the ball was hit, our defense was solid, maybe one, possibly two errors in the whole (regional) tournament. Played five games total, it was clean, it was crisp.
“Going into the World Series I want to see our bats liven up. We struggled at first because we saw a lot of slow pitching, the boys they weren’t used to that. They had to learn to tone it back, they started hitting it well, but when we got facing velocity it became a struggle. That’s something we worked on the night before the region championship game was hitting some speed pitching.
“They came around, but I don’t want to let them slip up. We need to focus on that, you never know the next kid coming in how he’s going to throw, and if he’s throwing gas, and you’re not ready for it, you’re not going to put the ball in play.”
Stellar pitching has been a major calling card for Eastern during its All-Star run.
Ross Milburn, Jayden James, Lane Hundley, LaDainian November, and Dremail Carothers have all been in starting roles. They can also come in and work some relief innings.
“Typically Ty Lillpop we use him as a reliever,” Milburn said. “He brings it up another notch. When you’re ready to close out a game that’s the kind of kid you want in there. They all have velocity, Ty has got another notch on it.
“We’ve got a couple of other guys who are a little slower and there’s a time when you can pitch them in off-speed situations.”
James plays third base, with Ross Milburn and Carothers at shortstop, and both pitch and both play in the outfield. Peyton Isbell is at second base, with Lillpop and Logan Trone at first base. Gunnar Hendricks is at catcher, where Alex Hood also works.
“Everyone else can play outfield, and we will swap,” John Milburn said. “What we can do with the group of boys we’ve got is amazing, because we can just move them about anywhere, we’ve got a lot of utility players.
“When it comes to the sticks, we’ve got a lot of power in the lineup. They all know how to run the bases, they have good baseball minds. We don’t have to push the envelope trying to steal as much. We’re going to put the ball in play and make things happen.”
Alex Hood singled in the bottom of the fourth and drive in two runs to help Eastern to a 6-4 win over Green County in the regional championship game.
“The last year and years past I felt like we had some strong ball teams, but this is the one of the strongest I’ve ever seen at this age group,” John Milburn said.
Zayden Baker, Christian Fulks, Khilan Hamilton, Kaydon Leach and Hunter Webb are also playing on the Eastern All-Stars.
The team practiced for three to four weeks before the Kentucky Cal Ripken State Tournament started.
There is roughly a 2-week turnaround between the regional and the beginning of the World Series next Saturday in West Palm Gardens.
Pool play will likely be four games then into the tournament, according to John Milburn.
“It’s looking like there’s going to be 20 teams, two from each region, they’re not having international teams this year,” John Milburn said. “That many teams, we’re probably looking at four pool play games. We’ll start play on Saturday and we’ll probably finish on Saturday (Aug. 14).
“I like the long turnaround, there’s a lot to be done in a short amount of time, trying to coordinate everything, you’re trying to raise funds for families and the team. It’s tough, it takes an army, everybody on the team is helping, and it’s getting there.”
There is a GoFundMe page for Owensboro Eastern to help cover travel costs to West Palm Gardens.