HYDE CREEK—After practicing throughout the spring and summer, the Junior Hillbillys youth baseball team played its first game Sunday afternoon.
Shortly after the exhibition game ended, a half-dozen of them played their first doubleheader.
Mixed and matched with members of the Hyde Creek Hillbillys of the North Vancouver Island Baseball League, the mostly 10- to 14-year-olds played a six-inning contest prior to the Hillbillys’ scheduled league finale against the Port McNeill Rangers.
When only four Rangers arrived for the second game, several of the youngsters were distributed among both teams to fill out rosters for the seven-inning nightcap, won 11-5 by the Hillbillys.
“It was fun,” said Carson Strang, a recent Grade 7 grad from Sunset Elementary, who went 3-for-4 in both games with two RBI and three runs scored for the day. “You learn a lot more this way than just practicing.”
The Junior Hillbillys were recruited beginning last year by fellow Grade 7 grad Clayton Bono, and are coached by his father, Ray, and fellow Hillbilly Warren Henderson.
“I told Clayton if he got a team together, I’d coach,” Ray Bono said. “But I wasn’t going to organize it. He does it all — makes the calls to make sure the guys are coming out to practice, makes sure they have rides.”
The “team” was more of a loose assemblage of Clayton’s friends until this spring, when he got firm commitments from as many as 13 youngsters, including younger brother Ethan.
“It’s not hard to get people interested,” Clayton said of recruiting the squad. “We started with eight or so, then more people started coming. We could probably get more, but we don’t want to have too many.”
The Junior Hillbillys practice each Monday evening at Hyde Creek Ballpark, with Ray Bono and Henderson instructing in basic fundamentals.
On Sunday, they got to put those skills to the test in the exhibition game, which started with Clayton Bono and Hillbillys captain Ryan Rushton choosing sides of mixed adult and youth players, playground-style.
With the bases moved in to the 60-foot Little League distance, Clayton’s Junior Hillbillys claimed a see-saw, 12-6 victory over Rushton’s Hillbillys, propelled by a six-run fifth inning. Clayton struck out eight while pitching all six innings for the winners.
“My arm started hurting in the fifth inning, but I wanted to go the whole way,” he said. “That’s how long the games are in the Little League World Series.”
In order to fill a roster for the second game, the Rangers “borrowed” Henderson and Chad McKenzie from the Hillbillys, then added twins Jesse and Reece Lloyd and Travis Shad from the Junior Hillbillys. On the other side of the diamond, Clayton and Ethan Bono joined Strang with the regular Hillbillys, who overcame an early 4-0 deficit to rally for the win.
Richard Balcke led the attack with an inside-the-park home run and a double in a 3-for-4 effort that included three RBI, three runs and two stolen bases. Chad Bell drove in three runs with a pair of hits.
The Hillbillys will host a team from Comox this weekend, with the Rangers making it a round-robin series if able to field a team. Play begins Saturday at 1 p.m. and Sunday at noon in Hyde Creek.
Team Clayton 12, Team Rushton 6
Clayton 031 062—12 18 2
Rushton 104 100— 6 7 4
C. Bono and Henderson, R. Balcke (3). Rushton, E. Bono (6) and E. Bono, Proc (5). W—C. Bono. L—Rushton. 3B—Team Clayton, Hall, Beek. 2B—Team Clayton, Henderson. SB—Team Clayton, Leblanc, R. Balcke. Team Rushton, E. Bono 2. Umpire—K. Balcke. A—18. T—1:41.
Hyde Creek 11, Port McNeill 5
Rangers 103 010 0— 5 6 2
Hillbilly 002 414 x—11 11 2
Proc, Kenny (5) and Kenny, Henderson (5); R. Balcke, Rushton (4) and Hall. W—Rushton. L—Proc. LOB—Rangers, 10; Hillbillys 11. DP—Hillbillys 1. HR—Hillbillys, R. Balcke. 3B—Hillbillys, Rushton. 2B—Rangers, Proc; Hillbillys, R. Balcke. SB—Rangers, Henderson, R. Lloyd, Johnson; Hillbillys, R. Balcke 2, Hall, Bell, Rushton, C. Bono. Umpire—Dumonceaux. A—11. T—2:09.