Junior Comets win Cactus League Tournament, finish season with single loss

By Kevin Cunningham


Whether it is professional basketball or a 12-and-under (12U) baseball league, it takes time for chemistry to develop within a team. Once that chemistry is built, and a talented team starts playing together as a unit, a near unstoppable force Is created.

In the NBA, LeBron James has been considered one of the best players in the league for nearly a decade. He has led teams without much skill around him to NBA finals appearances, has been a part of newly formed, skilled teams that have fallen short in the postseason – such as this past season – and has won two titles on teams that had skill and chemistry working simultaneously.

On July 12, the Delavan Junior Comets, a 12U boys baseball team, had an opportunity ahead of them the teams before them had never been able to capitalize on – winning a Cactus League Tournament championship. All the team had to do was win two games that day, and the Comets would make history.

Junior Comets History

Just a season ago, the team finished the year with an overall record of 4-10-1. The Comets had never beaten its rival, the Delavan Township Lakers.

During the team’s 4-10-1 run last year, head coach Ram Salas was in his first year at the helm of the team, composed of eight 11-year-olds. The team did not have a history of winning behind it, nor the chemistry to compete with the other teams within the Cactus League, made up of veteran-laden teams who hold tryouts (such as the Lakers) that had been playing with each other for years prior.

“I could tell there was some talent within the kids, but they needed to know how to play the game,” Salas said. “The first 14 kids who signed up to play, played. There are no tryouts. There are no selections. There is nothing. It turned out that this year, I only had nine kids sign up. I had to go out looking for a 10th player.

“That’s what made it even more impressive. Taking a group of raw, really talented kids and making them into a cohesive team.”

2015 Comets

After the 4-10-1 season a year ago, Salas had a team of eight 12-year-olds coming into this season who had meshed together and learned how to play the game of baseball not just individually, but as a unit. After just five games into this year, the Comets were 5-0. The team then lost to the Big Foot Padres in an extra-innings game, eventually lasting seven innings.

From that point on, the Comets went unbeaten, beating the Lakers for the first time in team history during the regular season, and entered the Cactus League Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed at 13-1 overall. Also at a later point in the regular season, the Comets had gone back to the Padres’ home field and revenged its loss by winning 12-1 in five innings due in part to the 10-run rule set within the league.

“That loss kind of gave us an appetite for the rest of the season,” Salas said. “The guys did not like the way it felt and did not want to lose again. That’s why when we went back and played them in the 12-1 game; (our players) were just up there ready to get some revenge.”

That 10-run rule proved to be put in place for good reason during the regular season. Delavan put up video game-like numbers throughout its 13-1 campaign. In the 14 games, the Comets racked up 168 runs on 138 hits. Opponents matched those numbers by scoring 36 runs on the Comets and totaled 41 hits through those 14 games.

League Tournament

On July 11, the first day of the Cactus League Tournament for the Comets, Delavan defeated the No. 8 seeded team, Sharon, 8-3. Then, the very next morning, the Comets had another chance to beat the Lakers this season in the semifinal game, since the Lakers had taken care of the only team that had beaten the Comets this season, the Padres.

In 10U and 14U this season, both Lakers teams went undefeated en route to winning championships in their respective age groups.

In the semifinal game against the Lakers for the 12U Delavan Junior Comets, Salas’ team once again came away victorious, winning 6-4 in a game that came down to the sixth and final inning. Later that day, after the emotional win over a historic juggernaut, the Comets had their chance to take home the team’s first ever Cactus League Tournament title against Williams Bay.

The team’s emotions kept riding high that day, considering the championship game turned out to be a back-and-forth, seven inning, extra-inning game that came down to a wild pitch with the game tied 4-4.

The Cactus League plays with a “California rule” once the game goes into extra innings. The seventh inning begins play with one out and a runner starting at second base. After Delavan kept Williams Bay from scoring in the top-half of the seventh thanks to a double play, the Comets had their turn to bring home the title. In the bottom-half of the inning, once the Comets’ starting pitcher, Seth Sybesma, stole third base, the drama came down to the final runner at third.

“The backstop at the Lakers’ field at Kirkpatrick is not very deep, so there wasn’t a lot of space back there,” Salas said. “We had gotten a wild pitch and my runner started to go, but the ball came right back to the catcher. Then, the next ball got past the catcher and my runner took off. He got a good secondary lead and (once the catcher found the ball) he tossed it to the pitcher, and by that time, my runner was already under the tag and that was the game … it really was awesome. The excitement was as high as could be.”

The Comets had won their first championship in high drama, and won all season in part to its otherworldly offense. Sybesma, the team’s No. 1 pitcher all season, batted .634 for the year. Assistant coach Mike Hoey’s son, Ryan, hit a team-high, .658. Seven batters for the Comets hit for an average better than .367 and the team average finished at .411.

On the mound, and defensively as a whole, Delavan’s dominance was no different. The team recorded multiple no-hitters and three shutouts throughout the course of the season. Outside of the lone 9-8, extra-inning loss, one team scored five runs, and another put up four against the Comets. No other team scored more than three.

“The team executed extremely well,” Salas said. “We had very few errors all season. We talked about and practiced for everything that could go on within a game. They were mentally prepared every single game and we played one inning at a time. They got into the winning mood. Once they mentally got into the winning mood, they knew that nobody was going to stop them. (The team’s performance) was more flawless than I could have asked for.”

When talking about LeBron James, the NBA and all the star players that go with the league, Salas said that egos can get in the way. Players start arguing and sometimes are unable to play cohesively as a team because of communication breaking down.

“With us, we worked with where everybody was going to be at,” Salas said. “We set up situations so that if such and such happens, this is what you do. For a while, I had them play each other’s position so that they all understood everybody’s responsibilities. As a team, they worked extremely well. They like each other.”


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