ITMO Sports: Sioux Falls Little League Manager Talks with Chris Laughery

Last Updated by Heather Benson on

The Sioux Falls Little League team is on its way to the Little League World Series. The kids say they like everything from eating waffles to hitting dingers celebrated their win over Webb City, Missouri. SDPB's Chris Laughery caught up with the team manager, Jeff Riley, this morning to congratulate him on the big win.

Jeff Riley:

Yeah, thank you, thank you. What a great victory it was in here. To go out and kind of get shut down the first couple innings, and see these boys respond. I keep talking about how they're going to take a punch, and that we can hit up and down the lineup, and they proved it. Just patience, and one pitch at a time, one play at a time, and it worked out. It was a phenomenal day.

Chris Laughery:

Tell us what Saturday morning coach was like for your staff and players alike.

Jeff Riley:

Yeah you know what it was the first time they were really, that they expressed anxiety butterflies, which is normal. When we got out there, we got to the fields, and we actually took a really, really good round of batting practice the day before, and that carried into that morning. The infield looked sharp, and so I knew we had a chance. I knew we were going to be sitting in a good spot, and I thought at the end of it all we would be there, and that's what happened.

CL:

This was the same team you played on Wednesday to get to the regional championship. How did your preparation differ?

Jeff Riley:

Well, the difference was is we knew the kind of pitcher that they were going to throw, and we knew he threw hard, but we also knew that he had a tendency to be wild. When he threw against Nebraska, half his pitches were balls and half were strikes. We had to go with the approach of stay consistent, one pitch at a time. The first two innings he was throwing strikes. Then once we got a guy on in that third inning, you could see that he was not comfortable anymore, and things started to unravel. That's really the only thing that changed. We just didn't hit very good that game before either, so that's fine.

CL:

As you alluded to earlier, the first three innings were semi-uneventful offensively for Sioux Falls, but the defense kept Webb City from scoring. The third inning was a totally different story as the bats seemed to come alive.

Jeff Riley:

Yeah, and that's just what we needed. The big play I think was Ethan Bruns down the very first play of the game had the diving play at third. Gets all the way to his feet and still guns him out. Then after we came to bat in the bottom of the third, I looked at the boys and I said, "Hey the storm is coming, the storm is coming." I kept saying it. When we got that first infield single with Ty, and then I believe Jaxsen came up and walked, and it just kind of rolled from there. I believe there was even two outs with Marcus when he came up and got that first big hit to score a couple. Then Bennett Dannenbring coming off the bench the way he did, bases loaded, two outs, and slaps that one to right center and scored two. I mean that was good stuff. We've been working really hard on getting our front foot down early, and we've even got to work harder now that we're out here. The velocity is only going to keep rising now.

CL:

I happen to catch you last week when we spoke and you were talking about practice, and how you were going through allowing these guys to see the fast ball a little better because you just weren't hitting the fast ball.

Jeff Riley:

Right.

CL:

That practice worked didn't it?

Jeff Riley:

Yeah, it did. You can't change something overnight, but if you can continually, and these kids ... That's what's amazing about these 14 kids is they're baseball players, and they understand what's in front of them. They really took that practice serious, and they really took the instruction serious and tried to get better. They were really getting their front foot out there to get their hands going a little bit quicker to see that ball, and that's what we did. We got to it. We're a very good middle of the field hitting. We live in the gaps, and that's what happened on Saturday. Right center, that's kind of where all the balls were going, so it worked out.

CL:

Were you at all concerned? If so, at what point, with the pitch count for Marcus Phillips?

Jeff Riley:

Well yeah, I think after the first inning if I'm not mistaken he was at 19 or something like that. Then after the second it was still kind of up there, but I knew the process. I was more concerned about the other pitcher's pitch count being so low. Then when we got after him in the third there that went way up. I wasn't overly concerned really with Marcus's because we still had Jack coming behind us. We still had Mason coming behind him. We had a lot of pitching left over. Obviously Marcus is a horse and can get a strikeout whenever, but the other kids pound the zone as well.

CL:

For those that may not know coach, since we're talking about it, explain what it's mean when we refer to a pitch count in this league.

Jeff Riley:

There are different rules for pitch counts because they're really protective on how many, the boy's arms. If you throw 21 pitches, you have to take a day off. Twenty and anything under is essentially, you can pitch the next day. Once you hit like to a 50 pitch limit, you've got to take two days off. The maximum you can throw is 85, so a lot of times when you have a horse who's throwing a lot of strikes, 85 pitches you can get that done in six innings. So we were trying to keep Marcus under that 85, and he hit the 85th pitch I believe at five and a third innings, so Jack Radel came in and finished out the next two outs.

CL:

If I remember right that was a strikeout wasn't it?

Jeff Riley:

It was, and against Dupree Jaxsen, who I think was hitting .700 at that point. He came in and just muscled one by him. He said let's go one on one and hit my fastball, and Dupree couldn't catch it. That was pretty fun to watch because that's just the way Marcus is, that kind of a competitor. He wanted that kid and he wanted that last strikeout. He knew with the pitch count that it was his last batter, so it was fun to see one on one right there.

CL:

Sioux Falls won the game quite handily as the final score was 6-0. Coach, describe the excitement.

Jeff Riley:

Yeah, you know it was, it's just an overwhelming feeling, excitement and joy. I mean really happy for the parents as well as the players. It sounds weird because everything just seems like it should be carried over to the players, and it should. They're 12 year olds, they should be celebrated, but these parents and grandparents, or fans, and aunts and uncles, and brothers and sisters, they have sacrificed so much for these kids too with time off and jobs. Parents were driving back home and they flew out Friday night to watch this Saturday game. I mean that's just commitment. The love they have for their boys is awesome. The excitement just in the city of Sioux Falls and in the state, I think, I wish I could be back home, but just here right now in Pennsylvania it still gives me goosebumps of all the calls and texts I get. It's so appreciated, and the boys know it. The boys don't get the gist of what it means to have Governor Daugaard tweet something out, and Round, and Mayor Mike calling and texting. They don't understand the significance of that, but they understand a lot of people are rooting for them.

CL:

Our guest today is Coach Jeff Riley. He's the manager of the Sioux Falls Little League team who has won their way to a spot in the Little League World Series in Williamsport. It appears as though you have a great group of kids, or boys as you're calling them. Let's face it, at the end of the day they're kids.

Jeff Riley:

Absolutely.

CL:

At times they seem like they're just extremely poised young men to me. Do you see that too, even now that you're in Williamsport?

Jeff Riley:

You know what's funny is now that we're in Williamsport, we have two uncles. Basically those are our chaperones. At the end of the night, it was a bust night yesterday, she goes your team is one of the first teams that has never asked to go see the field. I sat back and I go that doesn't surprise me. These kids were so excited about getting gear, and just being here. I said but I will guarantee you when they step on the field, you are going to see a different mentality of these kids because they just change. We let these kids be kids. They get to go swim. They get to go do whatever they want. They can eat what they want. We limit their sodas. I mean I'm not a big sugar guy, but they are kids. But man, when we step on the field they are poised. They are confident. They can't be beat. They walk with confidence and swagger. They are legitimate ball players.

CL:

Up next it's Greenville, North Carolina on Friday at 7:00 pm. How do you and your staff prepare them for this game?

Jeff Riley:

I don't know if I do. We know it's fastball dominant here until you get to the international. Then you get a lot of breaking ball stuff, but we're just preparing as we did in Indianapolis. Get that front foot down, get those hands ready to get through the zone. We're not talking about how big the stage is. The uncles were telling us there should be probably 15,000 to 20,000 people in the stands, so I think that there alone they're going to walk out there and say "holy crap," but when their feet, when their cleats hit the dirt, they'll be ready. They'll be ready. They'll be zoned in and focused. Hopefully we get strike one on the first pitch.

CL:

Kind of leads me to my next thought. Are these kids even phased about the fact that they're playing in the Little League World Series, that these games are on ESPN?

Jeff Riley:

You know what just this morning I was in the bedroom with these guys, or in the dorm room. Jaxsen goes, "I just never thought I'd be here." I'm like, "Yeah, it's pretty cool," but I don't think that phases him like oh my gosh, it's over the top. It's just I'm here, now let's play. It's a weird mentality, but they're so relaxed. We're out here right now at this baseball academy. They're pitching, they're hitting, they're getting scouted for their different profiles. The catchers are blocking. Right now as I speak I'm watching them. They're just enjoying that moment, so it's fun. It's just, I'm so glad I'm here right now.

CL:

What's, you kind of led to it a little bit there, what's the schedule like? You're not playing until Friday, it's Monday.

Jeff Riley:

Yeah, it's brutal. It's really brutal. Today is jam packed until about 3:00. The kids have to wake up at 7:00 to go eat at 7:30. You've got appointments by 9:00. Right now I have a sick kid back at the clinic up there I've got to go check on. For a coach, it's incredible. Just because you have 14 boys, 14 sons, and if one's down you've got to go take care of him while the other 13 are out playing. It's glamorous on the outside, but it's a struggle on the inside, but it's okay. The schedule is brutal. It's nonstop all day. I'm just hoping these boys get an hour or two. They've just been asking when can we go play ping pong with Japan. They just want to get to the rec room and start this stuff.

CL:

Coach we know your time is valuable and we appreciate you giving us some time today. Best of luck. Have fun, enjoy this, and just take it all in.

Jeff Riley:

Absolutely. Thank you so much. Yeah, let me know if you need anything else whenever we can fit it. I always want to support back time because we appreciate all of your guy's support.

Jeff Riley is manager of the Sioux Falls Little League team. The boys are ready for the Little League World Series in Pennsylvania. They play Greenville, North Carolina on 7:00 pm on Friday. You can find complete coverage on ESPN.

 

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