Congratulatory messages poured in after West Raleigh clinched the 11-and-under Cal Ripken World Series. The euphoric moment Saturday was the perfect way to end their season that began in February.
The West Raleigh youth baseball team had to win the North Carolina state championship; travel to Virginia for the regional round to compete against teams from Virginia, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee; and, finally, the World Series that took place in Florida.
From parents and friends to alums and opposing teams, West Raleigh has felt the affection from the community all season long.
“We got lots of messages from people from other teams in West Raleigh congratulating us,” pitcher Evan Broussard said. “The N.C. State coach, Elliott Avent, actually congratulated us and was cheering us on that whole time.”
Cal Ripken Baseball is a part of the Babe Ruth League, featuring some of the best amateur baseball and softball programs in the world. This West Raleigh group — comprised mainly of individuals that experienced the angst of losing in a regional in 2021 — were able to avenge last season’s defeat.
“We’ve never won a regional, so to get to that regional this year and then win it, that was an amazing feat in its own right,” head coach Ryan Harris said. “Then to go down from the regional to the World Series and take home that title as well, just a storybook ending.”
Chris Vurnakes is the executive director of the program. He’s one of two staffers — the coaches are volunteers — and works with the board of directors and volunteers to help grow the program. He’s excited about how the camaraderie builds among the team and community.
Generations of families have trickled throughout the program since its inception in 1958. It’s not rare to see grandsons of previous players suit up for West Raleigh.
The West Raleigh team is close-knit. The players also play basketball and football together.
“It’s just really fun to see all of the people come together and rally behind these young men and support them wherever they are,” Vurnakes said.
The pitching staff was a huge part of the team winning the eight-game tournament. Stellar performances from Brooks Klingemann (MVP), CJ London, Evan Broussard, Daniel Neamtu, Grayson Macpherson, Owen Harris and Landon Jaille powered the team.
It was a unique experience to play against teams from all over the country and a team from Puerto Rico, Broussard said.
All of the hard work and sweat now allow Broussard to be in the same realm as the pitchers he looks up to. His favorite pitchers are Max Fried of the Atlanta Braves and Sam Highfill of N.C. State. Highfill is an alum of the West Raleigh program.
“It’s definitely really cool getting the honors that some of these other great pitchers got, like Sam Highfill and Matt Willadsen,” Broussard said. “They both played at West Raleigh and they both won it, so it’s really cool being associated with those guys.”