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Stilly Valley Black Sox win Tournament of Champions
ARLINGTON — The Stilly Valley Black Sox have made a league record as the first majors team to win the Tournament of Champions in Stilly Valley history.
The team of 11- and 12- year-old baseball players ended their season with a 23-2 record and a trophy from the June 5 final championship game against Pacific, a top-performing District 1 team, at the Lake Stevens Community Park.
“We were the league champs and went on to the Tournament of Champions, which brings together every league from District 1, which is all of Snohomish County,” said team manager Kevin Rork. “This is the first Stilly Valley majors team to win it. It’s a pretty big deal.”
Jason Burbee, father of player Camden Burbee, said he was proud for his son’s team to make it so far.
“I know that Stilly Valley had a history of never winning the Tournament of Champions, usually it was Mill Creek who dominated the tournament,” said Burbee.
To avoid letting Mill Creek take the win, the team spent every practice discussing what they hoped to achieve with the season, what they did successfully and what they needed to improve.
“It was something we talked about, our goals at the beginning,” said Rork. “We talked about being league champs and about winning the tournament, we thought about that every step of the way.”
An Arlington win for the Tournament of Champions is rare for the majors team, according to Rork, who has been a Stilly Valley manager for five years.
“Typically it’s Mill Creek or Pacific who are top dogs,” he said. “It’s great for our team from Arlington to win it this year.”
The team had three all-star players who stood out this season with skilled pitching and consistent hitting. “These three kids led us all season,” said Rork.
Jake Russell, Trevor Kazen and Gavin Rork have all had quite a successful year.
“Jake has been a really dominant pitcher. He’s been one of the best pitchers in the league for a number of years,” said Rork.
“It’s kind of scary at first because you know how kids can hit hard if they hit straight at you,” said Russell. “It was pretty awesome to compete in the TOC and it was nice being in the winner’s bracket because if we did lose we’d still get to play. But we never lost.”
Kazen is also recognized for having impressive skill on the mound. “He’s got really good defense and consistent hitting,” said Rork. “But he has also pitched phenomenally. He’s one of the kids who would come in and relieve the pitcher and pick right up.”
“I was really excited,” said Kazen, who thanked his coaches for making the team work hard to reach their goal.
Gavin Rork, Kevin Rork’s son, has also had an impressive year.
“His strength is he really gets on bases and causes commotion,” said Kevin Rork. “He steals a lot of bases and gets the team going.”
Gavin Rork was extremely happy to be competing in such a tough game.
“That was the first time I’d won in a district tournament,” he said. “I was really excited.” He is also proud of his own personal progress as a member of the team.
“My pitching has gotten better and my hitting has been with more power. I can hit farther now,” he said. “My favorite part is running. I like stealing bases.”
According to Gavin Rork, the team’s attitude following a winning play was almost indescribable. “I think that during the TOC, we had a game where we were down but then we came out to win it and we went crazy,” he said. “I’m happy that we have everybody that we have on our team.”
Kevin Rork agreed. “Gavin, Trevor and Jake get a lot of attention, but all the players have had some great highlights,” he said.
In their third game in the tournament, the Black Sox played South Snohomish.
“We were tied 4-4 in extra innings,” said Rork. “We had George Toponce on first. Dane Clark got to bat and hit a triple to the fence for the win.”
“He hit the gap perfectly and made it to the fence,” said Burbee.
Clark admitted to being a little bit nervous, but he didn’t let it phase him. “I went out there and there was a kid on first and I thought, ‘I’ve just got to stay calm,’” said Clark, whose favorite part of the tournament was the crowd. “There was a lot of fans there to support us,” he said.
After that, in the first game in semi-finals versus Pacific, another highlight helped the Black Sox move on to the final game. “Tom Roe was great at defense but struggled at the plate,” said Rork. “We were down 2-1 in the third inning and had two kids on base. Tom came up and hit a triple and we ended up winning the game.”
Roe described his reaction after winning the final game. “Ecstatic,” he said. “We were jumping up and screaming. We were so happy, but we settled down to high-five the other team.”
Elijah Clauson agreed. “It was pretty fun. I jumped up and was screaming and after that we applauded for the audience.”
Burbee’s son Camden, had a very good season, particularly on the offense. “He had a .440 for the season so that was really good,” said Burbee. “He ended up making the All Stars so he’s really happy about that.”
“I think I did really great this year, and I hit my first home run,” said Camden Burbee, who was excited about the TOC. “In the beginning, I thought it would be one of the hardest things ever in my baseball career. Once we won, we were super happy.”
Levi Wiseman was the only 10 year-old to make it, and was proud of his team’s success. “It felt really good to win,” he said. “Especially when I hit a double in our first game against Alderwood.”
Camden Burbee had another trick up his sleeve — his hair.
“Coach Rork is kind of superstitious and he told Camden that his hair was good luck,” said Burbee, of his redheaded son. “He didn’t cut his hair all season, because we were winning. We really needed to get it cut but he was just like, ‘Coach doesn’t want me to cut it,’” Burbee laughed. Camden Burbee ended up cutting his hair following the Tournament of Champions.
Many of the players thanked their coaches for support throughout the year.
“I started out hitting really well,” said Dominick Olsen. “Coach Gary really helped me out with my hitting.”
Perhaps one of the most exciting moments in the tournament came during the championship game also against Pacific. “Melecio Muniz didn’t have a hit all year, but he had a great attitude the whole way,” said Rork. “In the championship game against Pacific, he got a hit.”
Muniz hit a single up the middle to score two RBI and help the team finish with the championship trophy.
“I was up there thinking, ‘I need a hit’ and I felt really good when I hit that ball,” said Muniz. “It made me so happy I almost cried.”
“It was a great moment,” said Rork. “Moments like that are what Little League is all about.”