Three years ago, a Cal Ripken baseball tournament team of 9-year-olds from Rohnert Park couldn't win a game in the postseason.
Fast forward to today, still together and much improved, the Red Storm is going to the Cal Ripken five-state regional tournament.
"It's been fun. We just got better over the years," said Colton Moss, an infielder on the team. "We've gotten stronger. We're never out of a game."
One of two Northern California teams to qualify for the Cal Ripken 12u/60 Pacific Southwest Regional, in Surprise, Ariz., the Red Storm again will be an underdog. Should they win the regional, the Red Storm would advance to the Cal Ripken World Series, in Hammond, Ind.
"We just work really hard. I think it's really exciting," said Chris "Scoop" Wilsey, a catcher and second baseman.
The Red Storm's first season was not as memorable. Called a tournament team because the players were not picked to the Rohnert Park league's 9-year-old all-star squad, the Red Storm lost all 13 of its games in Cal Ripken postseason tournaments.
The next two seasons, the team won as many games as it lost in tournament play. The Red Storm did not advance past the Northern California finals.
"They were always the second-tier guys. They were players right on the cusp," said manager Paul Garrett. "They've jelled well together. It's just been a fantastic mix."
Deeper pitching to complement a steady offense helped the Red Storm reach the Northern California championship game this season, including a pair of come-from-behind victories. Despite falling to Elk Grove in the final, the Red Storm qualified for the regional tournament.
Putting balls in play, disciplined defense, and fearless when behind, the Red Storm are a confident team.
"Our team is just scrappy," Garrett said. "I've never seen them play better baseball."
Players up and down the roster have all contributed.
"We have a lot of players who can pitch. We've been hitting really good this year. That helps a lot," said Moss, who is entering eighth grade.
Growing into bigger, faster players has helped the Red Storm be more competitive against teams that once handled the Rohnert Park squad in past seasons.
"We've gotten older. We're all good friends and we've practiced harder," Wilsey said. "It's been great going to places together and playing good baseball.
"We just worked really hard and finally made it."
You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.