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Rattlers take Midwest Regional Championship

The Rattlers hold up the Midwest Regional Championship trophy after beating Mineral Area, Mo., on Sunday, July 28, in North Platte, Neb.

The 9-year-old West Fargo Rattlers traveling baseball team followed its state championship victory a few weeks ago by winning the Midwest Regional Tournament in North Platte, Neb., on Sunday, July 28.

"It really shows where baseball is heading," assistant coach Lenny Heupel said. "The talent level at age 9 is so much higher than it was a few years ago."

The Rattlers went 2-1 in pool play, decisively beating teams from Kansas and Nebraska, but losing to a Missouri team in a close game. The results of those games earned West Fargo the No. 2 seed in tournament play.

In the tournament quarterfinals, the Rattlers overwhelmed Scottsbluff, Neb., 9-0 before topping Southeast Denver 6-3 in the semifinals, moving on to face Mineral Area, Mo., in Sunday's championship game.

The team into the sixth -- and what was supposed to be final -- inning, with a 4-3 lead over Mineral Area, but gave up two runs, losing their advantage.

Knowing the team needed a run, center fielder Matthew Heupel led off a double and was driven in during the next at-bat with a base hit from pitcher Brennan Haman, which tied the game at 5-5 and sent the teams into extra innings.

Mineral Area drove in another run in the top of the seventh to put the pressure back on the Rattlers, but they bounced back in the bottom of the inning with a bases-loaded, no-out single from Heupel to knot the game back up at six runs each.

With the bases still loaded, Haman was ruled out at first, but drove in shortstop Caden Mattsen for a walk-off 7-6 victory.

"We went through some really close games, and the championship game came down to the wire," Heupel said. "We have a lot of pitching depth and we tend to rely on that, but our scoring is what came through for us. In the end, we won it with rock-solid defense and great batting."

Heupel saw the team's regional championship victory as a testament to the kids' hard work and their evolution over the past two months.

"The kids didn't have much confidence in the beginning," Heupel said. "Pitchers that age tend to be all over the place. When the first pitch is up by your head and the second is in the strike zone, kids kind of get scared of the ball and go to the plate looking for a walk. Now the kids step into the batter's box with confidence and are really aggressive with the bats."

If the kids can repeat their success next year, they will qualify for the Cal Ripken World Series.