This past weekend, the Arkansas Rough Riders 9U USSSA baseball team won the Arkansas state tournament at Hickey Park in Russellville.
Rough Riders Manager Cameo Stokes has kept this core group of guys together since they were 5 years old.
“When these kids were named all-stars when they were 5, I saw something special,” Stokes said. “I wanted to expose them to travel baseball outside of Pine Bluff. When we go places, we represent where we’re from. We tell the kids all the time how big baseball used to be in Pine Bluff and how we want to keep the tradition going.”
In Russellville, the team represented Pine Bluff well all throughout the tournament, going undefeated in pool play to clinch the No. 1 seed for bracket play. In pool play, they beat Perfect Timing Norwood 12-4 and Perfect Timing Braswell 14-4. In the first round of bracket play, they drew the No. 1 team in the state, the Hot Springs Outsiders. The Rough Riders beat the Outsiders 8-4 to keep their season alive. In the semifinals, they beat the P.T. All Stars 12-6, and in the title game, they held on to take down Maumelle 7-6. The Rough Riders were the only team with a perfect record during the tournament.
Stokes spoke about the advantages the young men have by playing travel ball at a young age.
“With the group being at this age, they’re already a step ahead,” Stokes said. “They get to soak up knowledge at a young age. It gives them a chance to develop their skills, and as they get older, they’ll only get better. These kids are getting exposure that a lot of kids just don’t get.”
By winning the state tournament, the Rough Riders qualified for the 9U World Series, but they’re electing not to go. Stokes explained that a lot of the players are multiple sport athletes, and with Fall Ball beginning in August, the best decision was for them to sit the World Series out this season. However, the Rough Riders finished third in their 8U World Series division last season.
According to Stokes, former MLB player and Pine Bluff native Torii Hunter has been a big inspiration to the group. As a motivational speaker for the Rough Riders earlier this year, Hunter had some wise words of advise
“He told the players in order to be the best you have to be the best,” Stokes said. “That made our kids hungry, and when we got to the state tournament we were highly confident that we were going to win.”
Representing Pine Bluff in a positive matter means a lot to the Rough Riders as a ball club.
“I think it’s a big accomplishment for the community,” Stokes said. “We get so much of a negative image, but there’s a lot of positive stuff that goes on. We didn’t win it for the organization, we won it for the community of Pine Bluff. I have to give a lot of thanks to the coaches and the parents, as they were very instrumental in our success.”