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SHERIDAN — Coach Ben Phillips didn’t sound displeased after the Troopers ended their season with a 7-4 loss in the ‘AA’ State Tournament on Friday. He sounded encouraged.
Although the Troopers only won one of their three games during the tournament, Phillips said he was pleased to see his guys give maximum effort and battle against some pretty good teams.
He’s happy that most of his guys are coming back next season, too.
After beating Jackson on Wednesday and giving the top-seeded, and eventual state champion, Gillette Roughriders all they could handle in a tough 11-10 loss on Thursday, the Troopers struggled in their final game of the season Friday.
Sheridan had three more hits than Cheyenne, a team that wielded two first team all-staters and the AA Player of the Year, but it was the Troopers’ 10 walks that led to their demise.
Phillips, who called walks the Achilles’ heel of his team all season, admitted that the free bases allotted to their opponent probably cost them the game.
But it was his team’s attitude and perseverance that gave him hope for the future.
“There was no intimidation,” Phillips said about how his young team adjusted to the older teams they faced.
He was quick to point out, though, that it wasn’t always the case with his team, which he hopes will change coming into next season.
“With young players, not every game is as important to them as maybe the state tournament is,” he said.
“If we can take the attitude from our last three games and apply it to every game, we’ll be really tough over the next couple of years,” Phillips continued.
His team has already grown into quite a different group over the course of their 13-21 season.
It wasn’t long ago when the coach sat in his office after an extra-inning loss and questioned the leadership on his team.
But it was that questioning that rallied his team like a Ray Lewis locker room speech, and his players showed Phillips that they had some fire in them.
A month later, that same team was awarded the AA Sportsmanship Award.
“For young kids, it’s hard to come in and be vocal because they don’t really know where they stand,” Phillips said of his team’s early leadership issues. “When teammates hold each other accountable, that’s what makes a team. Once we did that, we started playing better baseball.”
Along with the sportsmanship award, two Troopers came home with individual awards, as well.
Connor McCafferty and Kris Clark were named to the AA All-State first and second teams, respectively.
This was McCafferty’s third year making an All-State team, which Phillips said really helped on an especially young team.
“Connor’s always been consistent — hitting, defense, pitching,” he said. “He’s one of the best kids to come through our system.”
While Phillips admits it’s going to be tough to replace McCafferty’s effort and talent, he’s excited to have Clark back next year to fill that void.
“Kris worked hard this year and put up some big numbers,” Phillips said. “It’ll be good to have him back next year, and hopefully he can keep it going.”
Though there were times this summer when the coach wasn’t sure if his team would win another game, Phillips said he was pretty pleased with how the season went and where things are headed.
“Our goal was to get better from the beginning of the season to the end,” he said. “We definitely did that, so overall I was pleased with how things went.”