The NoCo Roughnecks are a summer baseball club that has drawn the attention of many Longmont-area players over the past couple of seasons.
Never before, however, had such a rag-tag group representing the St. Vrain Valley School District accomplished something like what the 16U American Amateur Baseball Congress regional tournament team did earlier this week in their own backyard.
The first AABC qualifier to be held in Colorado in several years, the challenge of the tournament was met head on by the likes of Trevor Ball, Braeden Elwood and Devon Nowells, and with a dramatic come-from-behind victory in the regional championship this past Sunday qualified for the AABC Mickey Mantle World Series later in July in Waterbury, Conn.
The Roughnecks pooled many of their 16U players that were playing on the club's 17U summer teams — 17 in all — and outlasted seven other regional teams to gain that berth. The championship game was played at Frederick, with the Roughnecks beating Thompson Valley 8-7 and in walk-off fashion.
Teams from all over the United States and Canada have the chance to qualify for the Mickey Mantle, one of several age-group World Series tournaments put on by the AABC.
"For us just being kind of thrown together and put as a team, and to see how we kind of became brothers and just supported each other, it's just been great," said Nowells, who will be a sophomore at LHS next fall. "We're looking forward to the opportunity."
"We were going into it thinking we had a good chance to win it because we had a bunch of the top athletes from a bunch of different schools, and when we got into a close game at the end we just pulled together and actually made it happen," added Ball, an Erie student.
Having been combined specifically for this tournament, Elwood said the group developed some pretty quick chemistry. The dugout may have been diverse when it came to represented schools, but the rising junior at Skyline said that he got the chance to play with several guys that he played on youth teams with.
The semifinal game was one Nowells won't soon forget, as he tossed a five-inning no-hitter. But the championship contest was perhaps even more special as the Roughnecks trailed 7-3 going to the bottom of the sixth inning and found a way to win.
"It was cool to represent Skyline and my community on the team just as everyone else was representing their school and their community," Elwood said. "We faced some adversity, and especially in the last two innings both teams were just getting really loud in the dugouts. It was extra special."
"We never had the lead in that game until we won it ... and it was an entire team thing, not just one person," Nowells said. "There was a great energy on that field."
Sixteen teams advance to the Mickey Mantle World Series, with pool play funneling into an eight-team double-elimination bracket. The tournament runs from July 25-29. Last year's winners were the Colton Nighthawks from Colton, California, and no Colorado team participated.
Though the AABC does help qualifying squads out with a small stipend, the cost to get to the tournament is something the Roughnecks are still trying to solve, head coach Tom Fobes said.
But the opportunity is one they are most likely to take advantage of.
"It is going to be an expense for the guys, but we're planning on making it work and it is definitely a pretty big deal," Fobes said. "It's going to come down to finding or raising about $600 per kid, and that was way more than what we were hoping.
"It'll be a great experience, and we know there are going to be some very good 16U teams there. We'll see kids that can throw mid-80's ... top arms and top players."
The roster for the regional championship team is as follows: Trey Rearick (Erie), Gavin Mendoza (Erie), Will Khanna (Erie), Grayson Schenbeck (Erie), Nash Phillips (Erie), Zach Pettofrezzo (Poudre), Nowells (Longmont), Elwood (Skyline), Matt French (Mead), Ball (Erie), Benji Havener (Erie), Gavin Pohl (Longmont), Brandon Hewell (Erie), Adam Bishop (Skyline), Mason Veve (Erie), Juan Chaparro (Skyline) and Brady Blando (Roosevelt).
Fobes is joined by Harold Simmons (Erie) and Randy Click (Mead) as Roughnecks coaches.