Tournaments | Story | 12/10/2019

Thrive Takes Team-First Approach

Blake Dowson        
Photo: Thrive-Haugen (Troy Haugen)

Final 2019 16u Travel Team Rankings

Troy Haugen showed up in Dallas with his team, Thrive-Haugen, for the 2019 Perfect Game WWBA 16u South National Championship knowing he would put his squad up against any other in attendance.

Thrive went 5-0 in pool play, outscoring its opponents 36-9 on its way to earning the No. 3 overall seed in the championship bracket, where it met the No. 6 seed, Banditos Scout Team 16u.

“Because of the way it worked out…we played the Banditos in the first round of bracket play,” Haugen said. “I talked to their head coach and we both said, ‘This is the championship game.’ We both knew it. And we had a really tight game.”

The Banditos ended up hanging on to a 4-1 win over Thrive, and went on to win the WWBA South National Championship, just as Haugen had predicted before the two teams played in the first round.

The win put a target on the Banditos back for the 2019 WWBA 16u National Championship a few weeks later, something Thrive didn’t have the burden of dealing with at the same event. Thrive certainly doesn’t mind playing with a target on them, Haugen said, but the result at the South National Championship let his team fly a little bit under the radar heading into the National Championship in Atlanta.

Again, Haugen knew they could beat anyone at that tournament.

“I knew we were as good as anyone out there,” he said. “We didn’t have the arms throwing 89 mph or anything, but we play as a team. Nine guys, 15 guys, is better than having one stud who plays by himself. Strength is in numbers.”

The team exploded for 55 runs in pool play on its way to a 7-0 record, allowing only 13 runs along the way.

The No. 10 overall seed in a championship bracket that included 49 teams awaited Thrive, along with a first round bye.

A solid outing from Colton Warren on the mound, who went five innings while allowing two earned runs and three hits, and a walk-off single from Luke Heefner in the bottom of the sixth inning got Thrive past Nebraska Prospects in the second round, by a score of 7-6.

A date with a red-hot No. 7 Scorpions 2021 Founders Club, who won its second round game 13-6, was next for Thrive.

“We battled that Scorpions team pretty good,” Haugen said. “They were who eventually beat us. And we had a lead on them. But my guys just got a little tired. We only had 14 guys there. But we battled, and I was really proud of my guys.”

Through four innings, Thrive was ahead 2-0, thanks to a two-RBI double by Camden Wheeler that scored Chayton Krauss and Gavin Brzozowski in the top of the second inning.

A six-run fifth inning for the Scorpions eventually was the difference.

Thrive ended the tournament with an 8-1 record and walked away accomplishing a lot of what it showed up in Atlanta to do – surprise everyone there.

It will also walk away from the 2019 season as the No. 25 team in the final Perfect Game 16u Travel Team Rankings, just behind the No. 24 Banditos squad who clipped it at the South National Championship. Scorpions Founders Club, who ended Thrive's run in Atlanta, finished the year at No. 2 in the rankings.

Five players were selected to the All-Tournament team at the National Championship for Thrive, led by Heefner, who hit .345 with a pair of triples, eight runs, and 10 RBI. Krauss was a member of the All-Tournament team for his work on the mound and at the plate, with his 3 1/3 inning, zero earned run performance against US Elite 2021 National Team and .333 average at the plate being the big reasons. Warren joined Krauss on both lists, for his 2.50 ERA over 11 innings and .500 average over 26 at-bats, including 11 runs. Ryan Scott and Raef Wright were both named to the All-Tournament team with .350 and .409 batting averages, respectively.

Each of the five players were named to the All-Tournament team at the WWBA 16u South National Championship, as well.

But it wasn’t the awards at either event that made Haugen know his team had really accomplished something. It was the way the team played that made him leave Atlanta with a smile on his face.

“My kids play hard,” he said. “I tell them, ‘Give me two hours.’ That’s about how long each game lasts. So I tell them to go win each inning…They play for each other. I’ve got a different group, where these kids really like each other. It’s not about who’s going where or who’s doing what. They play the game the right way.”

Haugen and Thrive try to teach the players in the program the right way to live and how to grow into men, as well, through a faith-based system in the organization.

The athletics director at a Christian school himself, Haugen said he knows how important it is to build up young men so that they reach their full potential in life.

It just so happens that doing that in the arena of sport, and specifically baseball, is a great place to do so.

“We focus on [faith] because really, how many guys are going to make the Big Leagues? There’s a greater power,” Haugen said. “We’re put on this earth for more than just baseball. If we can create men, and the type of men that are going to run this country someday, the type of men that you want your daughter to marry, there’s less and less of that emphasized these days.

“I’m not perfect…I get upset just like everyone else. But it holds me accountable. And it’s the same thing I do with my players. I hold them accountable. If you do something wrong, you’re going to know it. I’m going to tell you straight up. But if you do something right, I will be your biggest cheerleader…We’re going to make mistakes, but we can teach them that this is a life game, that it isn’t about baseball, it’s about life.”

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