The Retif Oil American Legion baseball team arrived in Shelby, North Carolina, on Tuesday.
Players on the Jesuit High-affiliated team have enjoyed the sightseeing and the Thompson Square concert they attended on Wednesday night leading up to the American Legion World Series.
But as catcher Trent Forshag is quick to point out, this trip isn’t about just having fun.
“This is definitely a business trip,” Forshag said. “We are enjoying every aspect of it that we can. But we are taking it pretty seriously. We don’t want to just play three games and thank them for having us here. We are looking to still be here on Tuesday.”
Retif Oil (31-6-1) plays its tournament opener Friday at 11:30 a.m. against Cromwell, Connecticut, at Keeter Stadium.
For coach Joey Latino, it’s his second trip to Shelby in four years. He led Retif to a World Series title in 2012.
“Things have changed a lot here,” Latino said about returning to Shelby. “The tournament continues to grow, so it’s like a whole new experience for me. The kids are excited; that’s a given. But they are also very focused on what we have to do baseball wise. They are taking in all the activities but come Friday, the focus will be squarely on baseball.”
Retif comes in as one of the hottest teams in the eight-team field. They went 5-0 last week to win the Mid-South Region Tournament in Arkansas. They also went undefeated in the state tournament. The last time they lost a game against an American Legion team was in early June.
In the regional tournament, they outscored their five opponents 51-18.
“I think what happened in Arkansas was that a lot of these guys got hot at the same time,” Latino said. “This group seems to really feed off each other. The energy is great. They obviously don’t care who is getting the credit. All the guys contributed in Arkansas and they just go about their business.
“When you get to the point when all nine guys are contributing, you’re going to have the run production.”
Outfielder Ben Hess led the team in region play with a .545 batting average.
He is joined in the outfield by UNO signee Scott Crabtree and Harrison Daste.
Rising senior Hayden Fuentes will start at third base and will be joined in the infield by junior shortstop Nick Ray, senior second baseman Brandon Briuglio (Florida International commitment) and first baseman and graduate Dan Edmund.
“Right now, the team is confident that anybody in the lineup can get the big hit,” said Forshag, who starts at catcher. “Nobody is getting too high or too low about having a good game or a bad game. We don’t care about who gets the credit. We are just staying levelheaded and going about our business.”
The pitching staff has been solid as well. The staff combined for 41 strikeouts in the five games.
“We had a 2.40 ERA, which is pretty strong for nine innings, and there were some good teams there with some lineups with a lot of experienced, college players,” Latino said. “The pitching held up well.”
He will look for more of that starting Friday when senior Mason Mayfield takes the mound in the series opener.
Retif Oil is in the Stripes division with teams from Michigan (Great Lakes Region winner), South Carolina (Southeast winner) and Connecticut (Northeast).
Retif plays Chapin, South Carolina, at 3 p.m. Saturday and Midland/Berryhill, Michigan at 6:30 p.m. Sunday.
The Stars division features teams from Hawaii (West Region champion), Oregon (Northwest), Nebraska (Central Plains) and New Jersey (Mid-Atlantic).
The top two teams from each division advance to the semifinals Monday, with the winners playing in the championship game at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Latino would like nothing more than to be playing again on the tournament’s final day, just like it did in 2012 when it brought the championship trophy back to New Orleans.
“When you get to this level, you know all the teams are going to be good,” Latino said. “You just have to go out and play your best baseball and control what you can control. We had a really good practice Thursday morning. I told the guys we aren’t here by accident.
“These boys being here is a direct result of the tremendous amount of hard work and dedication they have given to each other and to me over these last 12 weeks. We are going it give it our best shot.”