The biggest joy for any head coach is watching a team develop over a period of time.
Ricky Surrency got that honor with his Palatka Patriots 10-and-Under travel baseball team.
“These kids were 7 when we started out in January 2015,” Surrency said. “Watching them from the beginning of that first season, going out there and then watching them mature and how they developed, it’s the most rewarding thing you’ll ever see. Especially these kids in particular.”
Last Friday, Surrency’s travel team won their third straight come-from-behind game in the Youth Nationals at Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, taking the title game, 6-3, against the Athletics 10U team of Granville, Ohio after falling behind 2-0 after the top of the first.
“We tied the game in the bottom of the first as the home team and then just controlled it from there,” Surrency said.
Unlike Little League and Babe Ruth organized ball, the travel team is one that plays many games in a season. In the case of Surrency’s team, it played 47 games, going 33-12-2 with the two ties coming in the latter part of the season, the last one coming to the Hempfield Lumberkings of New Stanton, Pa., 7-7, in the national event.
At the national tournament, Surrency said the seven 10-and-under teams there ended up combining with the five 9-and-under teams for pool play. In pool play, the Patriots ended up tying the Pennsylvania-based team, then won 16-1 over
Force Pennsylvania’s U-10 team, but suffered a 13-1 loss to AMA Comache from Fayetteville, Ga.
Going into the bracket solely with the six other 10-and-Under clubs after a 1-1-1 record in pool play as the third seed, Palatka came from down 4-0 to defeat the Elite 9 of York, S.C., 5-4. That meant a rematch with ABA Comanche, and once again, the team found itself down 4-1. But Palatka rallied and came out on top, 5-4, setting up its championship game with fifth-seeded Athletics 10-U, and the win that sent the team to a championship behind the pitching of Kason Kirkland, who struck out six batters and allowed four hits, while walking two in going the distance. Another pitcher, Rodney Blackwelder, also had a big role in the team’s success coming out of the bullpen for wins in the previous two games.
“When we came back out, we were given hats and shirts that said ‘U-10 National Chmpions,’” said Surrency, a physical education teacher at Kelley Smith Elementary School. “We had our pictures taken and then went to the other side of the complex (at Grand Park) and they had a ceremony for us. It was really, really nice.”
Surrency said the commitment has to be there all the time to be a part of the travel team, where most of the players are based in Palatka, one being from Interlachen, a couple of more from East Palatka. He said the team helped raise close to $10,000 for the national tournament last week through a couple of fundraisers, including one to give away a 50-inch flat screen television via raffle tickets.
“The biggest reason we started this team was that a majority of the players were ready to play at another level,” he said. “They wanted the challenge, so we started ths team when most of these guys were 7 years old.
“This level of ball takes a lot of commitment from the parents. It’s a lot different from the recreational ball leagues. You have to be committed from the minute you start until the minute you finish. And I have to say we have a really outstanding group of parents.”
Surrency said he and his boys will move up to the Under-11 level and begin working for the fall season in the first week of August with the first tournament to take place in Sanford on Aug. 25-26.
“We don’t normally play as many games in the fall as we do in the spring,” said Surrency, who has been assisted from the start three years ago by coaches Brian Blackwelder and Justin Williams. “But we play our share.”
For now, the team takes a break. But have plenty of fond memories of a national title.
“To see these kids go from 7 years old when we started to this is rewarding,” Surrency said. “The development of these guys have been pretty awesome.”