JOPLIN — The South Texas Sliders Mayer honored their late founder Scott Mayer with their play on the field this week in the Premier Junior Championship.
The Sliders earned their first Premier Junior Championship since 2015 with a 8-0 run-rule win Sunday afternoon over Houston Kyle Chapman at historic Joe Becker Stadium.
Of course, it was an incredibly emotional moment for the Silders on Sunday, something touched on by head coach Michael Robbins in his postgame interview. This was the first time the Sliders played in this tournament without their founder and their coach.
“That win, I think it’d be hard for me to put into words what that win means to our program with everything going on,” Robbins said not long before the Sliders players doused him in celebratory ice, “in the offseason with our founder Scott Mayer passing away in May. It would be hard for me to put into words.
“All the big hits, all the innings pitched, all the plays made. This is a rare group where I could tell you every kid that we brought to the tournament, every single one of them contributed to winning this tournament. That’s not something you get a lot (ice shower). …
“The team that won this tournament would have been Scott Mayer’s team, were he still with us, and I would have been his assistant coach. I started with the Sliders five years ago. I’ve been in a lot of different roles. It was fitting for us, especially when we’re at Scott Mayer Field at Joe Becker Stadium, nobody’s standing in that (third base) box (for one inning) so we can honor him. That’s just one of the ways.”
The Sliders were sparked by starting pitcher Sam Walbridge’s complete game shutout. He allowed four hits over six innings and he struck out four and walked none. Like head coach Robbins, Walbridge — a 6-foot-5, 180-pound southpaw who’s committed to be a Texas Longhorn after his high school graduation in 2019 — touched on the intense emotions of the moment.
“It means everything,” Walbridge said. “It’s our ultimate goal, regardless of our coach passing away or not. But to be able to accomplish it without him, it’s very emotional. I’m glad we were able to do it to honor him, to glorify him, and I don’t know, it’s just an awesome moment. I’ve never loved a team more than I love this team right here.”
Walbridge, who could be seen treating his left elbow while the Sliders were at the plate, and his performance Sunday could go down in lore.
“In the long run, our overall pitching plan panned out,” Robbins said. “We thought we’d have Travis Sthele in the semis and Sam Walbridge in the finals, but Sam actually went down in our first game with some elbow soreness. We got him out in three or four hitters and we worked on him all week. He continued to stay focused and he told me today during the semifinal game, ‘Coach, I’m going to throw a complete game shutout.’ So when kids say that, you’re kinda like ‘OK, man, just give us a few good ones.’ He went out and did it, so he deserves a lot of respect. I could tell you he definitely has Scott Mayer on his mind 100 percent.”
Walbridge left the opening game Wednesday in the first inning and he allowed two runs on three hits. A few days later, he controlled Chapman Blue for all the marbles, something that he predicted.
The Sliders finished 9-0 in the Premier Junior Championship and won by a pair of shutouts Sunday, blanking the STL Prospects Whaley 4-0 in the semifinals.
“We’ve had a lot of really good groups with the South Texas Sliders,” Robbins said. “The ones I’ve been involved with, I can’t remember one group that’s as close and as focused as this group was. I don’t know if Scotty Mayer was doing that for us or if that’s just the way the bean shook this week, but this team, the core of it, has been together for so long.
“This group got put out last year in the semifinals in Lubbock. To finally punch the door down for this group, they deserve it. No group in the South Texas Sliders has ever played in as many big games as this team has and they finally kicked the door down and won it. They deserve it, if any group of kids ever deserves it.”
Keep this in mind: In Chapman Blue’s first eight games of the tournament, they allowed seven runs. On Sunday, the Sliders plated eight.
The Sliders scored two in the third, three in the fourth, and three in the sixth, collecting 11 hits and taking advantage of four errors by Chapman Blue.
Sthele paced the Sliders with three hits and two RBI, the trio of Douglas Hodo, Cord Filipp, and Wyatt Young each scored two runs, and Young and Hobbs Price each had two hits.
Sthele’s two-run single in the fourth made it a 5-0 lead and Young’s RBI double in the sixth began the Sliders’ three-run push to get the game to a run-rule situation.
Walbridge retired Chapman Blue in order. The celebration started.