The Dirtbags Have Come a Long Way After Last Year’s 15U Champs Experience

Head Coach Andy Partin’s group finished winless at this event in 2023. Now the Dirtbags have a chance to medal for the first time a year later.

The semifinals of the 15U National Team Championships didn’t end the way that the Dirtbags wanted it to on Wednesday, at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, North Carolina.

Head Coach Andy Partin’s squad fell by a final score of 5-0, overpowered by a Stacked National team that will be competing for the gold on Thursday with a record of 5-0. Two RBI singles, an RBI triple, and an error all brought runs in for Stacked, while pitcher Roy Kim held the Dirtbags to just two hits in six innings of work to stifle any hopes of a comeback.

But while the Dirtbags will be competing for the bronze medal against USA Prime National on Thursday morning instead of going for gold, this week has still been a memorable campaign for Partin and his players.

“I’m proud. It's really difficult to win any games in this tournament because all of the teams are so good, but I'm super proud of our guys,” Partin said. “To make it this far, it's not easy. Every team is very talented, and all of them have good coaches too. For us, it’s the best tournament that we’ve had the opportunity to play in this summer. Everything here has been amazing, so it’s been a great week for sure.”

The Dirtbags’ 15U squad from last year knows just how difficult it is to win games at Champs NC. The team finished winless, tying in a pair of games and losing another three for an 0-3-2 ledger at the end of the week. The competition is relentless, especially with 20 teams in the field this summer.

But this year’s team has proven itself to be different. Partin’s players opened the week with a 3-1 win over the Cangelosi Sparks, beginning with a pair of runs in the bottom of the first inning and capped off with the third run scored on a passed ball. On the mound, starter Holt Gaston picked up the win as he threw seven strikeouts in four scoreless innings, backed over the final three frames by Caleb Lynn and Dominic Naylor.

Tristan Lange went the distance on the mound as the Dirtbags took down Team Elite 4-0 on Tuesday morning, shutting down Elite’s bats with six punchouts and allowing just five hits. Dirtbag batters showed the same discipline at the plate from game one, scoring runs on a hit-by-pitch, a bases-loaded walk, an RBI double from Carter Beck, and a sacrifice fly.

“We play so many games throughout the year, so we try not to get too high or too low at any event we participate in,” Partin explained on Wednesday. “We try to play the same way at every tournament regardless of who we’re playing. But any time you get to come to Cary and play at the USA Baseball National Training Complex is pretty exciting. The kids get pretty hype for an event like this. It's not like we as coaches have to do much to get them excited.”

Tuesday afternoon’s 4-3 loss to PRD on a seventh-inning walk-off double did nothing to dampen the Dirtbags’ spirits, or prevent the squad from clinching an automatic quarterfinal berth by winning its pool. After a winless 2023 15U Champs NC campaign, the Dirtbags headed into Wednesday with a record of 2-1, the No. 4 overall seed in an eight-team field.

After scoring 10 runs in the opening three games, the Dirtbags came to play against the East Coast Sox in the quarterfinal. An eight-run first inning began with three walks to load the bases, followed by a pair of batters being hit by pitches to bring in the team’s opening two runs. RBI singles from Cooper Partin and Lange, along with RBI doubles from Kaden Parker and Hudson Tuttle, had the Dirtbags carrying an 8-1 advantage after just the opening frame.

Jaden Pipes would add an RBI groundout in the bottom of the third, and a two-RBI single courtesy of Beck delivered the final two runs in the bottom of the sixth for the Dirtbags. Ben Carter went all six innings on the mound, doing everything he could to hold East Coast to three hits and secure the Dirtbags’ spot in the semifinals.

“We didn’t have a message going into the game,” Partin admitted. “We just go out and play. Our guys have been resilient, I thought they responded well to adversity. As coaches we try to let our guys play and guide them when there are teachable moments. In our first game, we had one of those innings where we put up a lot of runs and it’s tough for opposing teams to recover from that.”

While Stacked National was too much for the Dirtbags to overcome in the semifinals, Partin’s crew will have the chance to earn bronze against USA Prime National on Thursday and finish with a record of 4-2 this week. It would be a huge success for a program that finished this same tournament 0-3-2 last summer. Partin attributed the growth of the team to the current group of players, who have been growing and playing together for years.

“It's the same team, and that's what's beautiful about us. It's really cool with our program, we get these kids early because we want to make sure we get the right kids into our program. Obviously we will add kids and some will drop, but that core group is staying together, and these guys are building a ton of trust in each other,” the Dirtbags’ head coach explained. “They understand that they have each other’s back. The coaches understand who can do what so we're putting guys in the right situations. For these guys to develop relationships with each other, and building long lasting friendships is the main aspect of what we do.”

Tomorrow, Partin and company will seek the Dirtbags’ first medal finish at 15U Champs NC. It’s a chance for this group that Partin is so proud of to add another chapter in its history together. But regardless of the result on Thursday, this week will have a lasting impact.

“There is more to come. It's a grind. I look back and we've played 14 of the last 17 days and sometimes we had multiple games. We play with the same 15 kids, so it's awesome to see the amount of effort they put in. I'm most proud of the guys because they trust in us. They trust the process and what we’re doing moving forward.”

Asked what the message was going into the bronze medal game, Partin kept it simple.

“We just have to keep playing. We know our season's not over, so we’ll just try to take it just one game at a time and one event at a time. Like I said, we don't harp on one certain event or one certain game. And these kids, they're learning what it's like to move on to playing college baseball or hopefully professional baseball, and that's what we're trying to help prepare them for.”

This current group for the Dirtbags looks to be right on track.