A lot has happened since Fallon hosted the last Cal Ripken state tournament, let alone winning the whole thing.
But for the first time since 2007, the Lahontan Valley welcomes four teams this week for the summer all-star tournaments when baseball players, ranging from 8 to 12 years old will compete for the state crown and berth to the regional tournament later in the month.
“We have a good mix of those who played travel ball and all-stars in previous years,” Fallon 12-under all-stars coach James Richardson said. “We have newer kids who are playing for the first time.”
After seeing Spanish Springs and Silver State host the majority of the state tournaments in the last six years, Fallon gets a chance to show off its newly improved ball fields. The 8-under, 9-under and 10-under all-star teams will battle south of town at the county regional park while the 11-under and 12-under will compete at Oats Park.
“I love playing here in Fallon because of the community support. They do great job getting the field ready,” Richardson said. “We have awesome volunteers getting the field ready between games.
“It does help on the travel. More kids are involved when we’re hosting and we have many players back from previous years.”
Fallon and Spanish Springs, who have developed a fierce rivalry in the last 10 years, are the only programs to field teams for all five age groups this week while Silver State has four teams and Sun Valley has three.
Fallon hasn’t won a Cal Ripken state title since 2009 when Stanford Christy’s 12-under group came back through the consolation to defeat Spanish Springs twice.
“The league’s trying to make a comeback and change some things and hopefully for the better,” said Christy, who’s coaching this year’s 8-under all-stars. “It shows how the league and everyone are coming together and trying to make Fallon and give them back their baseball status. We’ve always been competitive in the state tournament.”
Championships kept coming Fallon’s way until Spanish Springs started growing more and now it’s the Sparks community that’s been dominating the league.
“They’re involved on a travel club. They play year-round baseball and are very skilled and very experienced,” Richardson said about Spanish Springs. “The typical kid in Fallon is a multi-sport athlete.
“We’re trying to catch up on a lot of their experience. They play a lot of baseball with 40 to 60 games under their belt. We’re just putting our group together. It’s definitely a challenge but it’s not something can’t overcome. We have great baseball players and athletes.”
All four programs will be competing in the 8-under division, which begins Thursday with pool play before switching to a single-elimination bracket on Sunday. The championship is at 4 p.m. with the winner advancing to the regional tournament, which for the first time in four years, will be held in Northern Nevada as Sun Valley will welcome teams from the Pacific Southwest.
Christy said that Fallon is the only program that runs off a pitching machine the entire season and that his coaching staff had to help their all-stars with pitching and defense last month. Spanish Springs used live pitching all season while Sun Valley and Silver State switched from the machine to live pitching at midseason.
“We have to teach them to steal bases, pitch, catch and overthrows. We’re starting from the ground up,” he said. “I think we got a pretty good mixture of kids. Hopefully, we’re going to have a fairly strong team.”
Unlike the 8-under, the 9-under group will feature a three-game series between Mark Feest’s Fallon all-stars and Spanish Springs.
Both teams square off on Friday at 4 p.m. and Saturday at 5 p.m. for the first two games. An if game is scheduled for Sunday. The winner advances to the regional in Riverton, Utah.
The 10-under group will showcase all four programs. The round-robin format begins on Thursday and runs through Saturday. The single-elimination bracket is on Sunday with the championship at 6 p.m.
Glenn Lee is coaching Fallon’s 10-under team who will try to advance to the regional in Visalia, Calif.
Silver State, Fallon and Spanish Springs will begin the 11-under round with a round robin format at Oats Park on Friday and Saturday. The single-elimination round is on Sunday with the title game at noon. The regional is in Vernal, Utah.
For Richardson’s club, he said most of the team played ball outside of the local league and he feels strong that will help them compete for a title.
“The level of talent has definitely expanded. We have a new crop going into high school,” he said. “A lot of kids in town are involved in travel ball of some fashion in addition to Cal Ripken and Babe Ruth.(High school coach) Lester de Braga definitely has a pool of players for his high school club. They’re doing very well.”
For the first time since Cal Ripken introduced the 70-foot base paths, all four programs will participate in the 12-under group. They begin with round robin on Thursday and the single-elimination round is Sunday with the championship at 6 p.m.
Greg Wickizer is coaching Fallon’s 12-under team, who hopes to make it to regional in Bakersfield, Calif.