|Oklahoma's Premier Summer Baseball Program||Sunday, November 29, 2015|
With just three players back from the record-breaking 2002 squad, the 2003 Travelers seemed destined to be overshadowed by its predecessor.
Eighty-one games later the 2003 squad notched out its own space in Traveler lore with two tournament championships, three runner-up finishes and a fourth-place showing in the 16-team USSSA World Series. Overall, the team finished a terrific 39-8 in tournament play for the season.
Despite the lack of returnees, the 2003 squad won 64 games, extending the string of 60+ win seasons to three and finished off the second-best three-run in club history.
The 64-17 record in 2003 was the sixth-best single season mark in the 41-year history. And they did it with arguably the best pitching staff ever.
Ten pitchers made up the heart of a staff that posted a sensational 2.88 team ERA and allowed just 5.8 hits per contest. Opponents scored three runs or less in 54 of the 81 games played, and the pitching staff was even better in close contests, helping the team to finish 10-2 in one-run games.
The 2003 Travelers once again rolled deep into World Series competition, placing fourth in the USSSA 18-and-under competition in Lexington, Kentucky, and still hold the distinction of being one of few teams in team history to play on the final day of every tournament in which they competed during the season.
On top of the fourth place trophy at the World Series, the Travelers were also awarded the Series' prestigious Team Sportsmanship Award. Brett Case, Chance Gerloff, Justin Ferguson and Reece Creswell also earned All-Tournament honors.
Coach Mark Ward's three-year win-loss record at the helm of the Travelers is now an incredible 190-46 for a winning percentage of .805, despite competing against some of the top competition from all over the United States. The only mark better than the current three-year run came from the 1983-1985 squads, which won 220 games and lost only 49 (.818) under the coaching of Mark's father Bob Ward.
It didn't take long for the 2003 Travelers to make their mark, finishing as runner-up in the Midwest City Memorial Day Tournament before winning the inaugural Traveler Shootout with six straight wins, including a 10-6 championship game victory over the Denver Metro Stars.
The Shootout title began the team's most impressive run of the season as they cruised to the championship game of the Tony Andenucio Memorial Tournament in Pueblo, Colorado, for just the second time in team history. And they did it with six run-rule victories through pool play and the semifinals.
The Travelers fell to the high-powered Albuquerque Cubs, 11-3, in the Andenucio title tilt, but the foundation was laid for the squad to build on the rest of the year.
After that run, the squad went on to reach the semifinals of the 32-team Oklahoma Diamond Classic in Edmond for the second straight year and then the finals of the Old South Plains Classic in Midwest City over the 4th of July weekend in Oklahoma City.
Ward's club then returned home to notch its second straight Route 66 Classic Championship -- and just the third in team history -- against a field loaded with top-notch competition from around the region. The final day of the tournament was especially impressive as the Travelers dispatched the always-tough (and 2001 tournament champ) Austin Slam 9-0 and beat Burt Chevrolet (Littleton, CO) for the second time in the tournament, 9-2, in the championship game.
The Travelers then closed the regular season with nine straight wins before traveling to Lexington, where they dodged the rain long enough to take home the fourth place trophy amidst a strong group of combatants.
Coincidentally, it was the second year in a row the Travelers were beaten late in World Series play by the eventual National Champion. Last year it was Columbus, Ohio in the NABF World Series, this year it was a team from Cedar City, Tennessee that rallied from a fifth inning deficit to beat the Travelers 8-2 before taking the crown on the next day.
The Travelers, needing four wins on the final day of the World Series, were beaten out by the Midwest Nationals (St. Louis, MO), 5-4.
In all, it was another monster season for the program, which now sits with a 41-year record of 2,129 wins to just 842 losses.
The bar continues to be raised for a storied program. The 2003 team did its part in setting a high standard for the team of 2004 to shoot for.
It was another sensational campaign for leading hitter Brett Case, as the Seminole State College signee finished as just the 16th player with 100+ hits in a season. His 111 hits tied him with Mike McDonald for 10th best total in team history.
Case has put together two mind-boggling seasons with the program and left no doubt that he was one of the best players to ever wear the red jersey.
The Preston lefthander was the offensive leader in six different categories, finishing with a team-best .448 batting average, the 111 hits, 75 runs scored and 29 doubles, which was the fourth-most in club history. He also led in games played (74) and at-bats (248). Case received All-Tournament honors at the Andenucio Tournament (Pueblo, CO) and USSSA World Series.
Over his two-year career as a Traveler, Case put up some of the most impressive numbers in that span ever, finishing with 210 hits in two seasons. Only seven other Travelers have duplicated that feat: Mike McDonald (242), Gregg Ward (225), Bryan Gore (223), Terry Howard (214), Monty Farriss (213), Monty Kauk (212) and Toby Walker (211).
Hitting wasn't the only exploit for Case, however, as the southpaw was also a dominant pitcher for the Travelers in 2003, posting an 11-3 mound record and 1.71 ERA. He led the squad in innings pitched with 73 2/3, fired six complete games, including five of which were shutouts.
The two-year career numbers for Case are staggering: 463 average, 210 hits, 152 runs scored (in 139 games played), 40 doubles, 9 triples, 9 homeruns, 117 RBI, 27 stolen bases with a .678 slugging percentage.
On the mound Case finished his two years with a 19-6 record and 2.98 ERA. He appeared in 32 games ( starting 23) on the mound, pitched 123 innings allowing 114 hits while striking out 155.
Leedey product Timmy Sullivan finished off a brilliant career as a Traveler with a spectacular season at the plate as well.
The hard-hitting righthander batted .402 in 209 at-bats and led the club with 12 home runs, six triples and 64 RBIs while posting a .713 slugging percentage, which also led the team. Sullivan accounted for 17 doubles and was second on the club with 84 hits. Timmy earned All-Tourney honors at the Andenucio Tournament in Pueblo, CO.
The Seminole State signee also showed a tremendous blend of speed with his power, leading the team with 27 stolen bases and impressing numerous scouts with his speed out of the box.
With blur-like speed, range and a strong arm at second base and truly unbelievable power for a 5-10, 170lb frame, Timmy could be a Traveler to keep an eye on as he moves up the ranks in college ball and quite possibly pro ball.
Timmy, the younger brother of former Traveler great Beau Sullivan, etched out his own impressive career in his two summers. One that could rival his brother's career.
Timmy's two-year numbers: .387 average, 171 hits, 134 runs scored, 38 doubles, 10 triples, 19 homeruns, 120 RBI and a slugging percentage of .647. Sullivan also stole 41 bases in his career and even did a little pitching this season, recording a 1-0 record and five strikeouts in four innings of spot work.
Case and Sullivan are the only two-year players to graduate from the 2003 team and will be missed greatly for the pursuit of excellence and the example it set to the rest of the team.
A pair of first-year Travelers from the Texas panhandle can be pointed to as keys to the team's outstanding success in 2003.
Garrett Cook became the first Traveler ever out of Amarillo High School and quickly made his mark as a staple in the batting order, hitting with tremendous power from the left side of the plate and providing a competitive attitude and a quiet leadership on the field.
Cook, who played both third and first base, got off to a bit of a slow before tearing it up down the stretch. He finished with a .379 batting average, which included 10 doubles, five home runs and 51 RBIs. He also showed a tremendous eye at the plate, walking 30 times in addition to 11 times being hit by a pitch, both of which was good enough for second on the squad.
In addition to his prowess at the plate, Cook "pitched" in late, beating Burkburnett on the mound late in the year in his only pitching outing of the season. He allowed no runs in six innings of work.
Canyon, Texas graduate Michael Crabtree was also a first-time Traveler from his panhandle school and like Cook, became a fixture in the lineup after a late start due to high school playoffs and All-State competition.
Crabtree was another versatile performer that played mostly first base in high school but performed yeoman's duty for the Travelers in the outfield this season. He finished with a .370 average, including eight doubles, a triple and 23 RBIs. That doesn't include his pitching efforts, which resulted in a 3-0 record and 2.52 ERA in 17 innings of work. Crabtree came up big with several important pitching outings late in the year.
Cook will continue his playing career at Clarendon Junior College while Crabtree will play ball at Frank Phillips College.
Another first-year Traveler, Justin Ferguson from Tuttle, quickly took his spot at the front of the pitching rotation and maintained that position throughout the year.
The southpaw overcame early arm fatigue to finish with a team-best 12-2 pitching record as well as a nifty 2.03 ERA in 72-plus innings of work. He was a workhorse for the Travelers in the second half of the season and came up big in the finals of the Route 66 Traveler Invitational, beating Burt Chevrolet 9-2.
Ferguson fired two complete games, including a 3-1 win over Norcross, Georgia, during a World Series elimination contest in Lexington.
Ferguson will pitch next year at Seminole State.
One of the brightest spots on the Traveler squad was Elk City's Brett Davis, who saw brief action at the end of 2002 but really emerged in the 2003 campaign as a regular in the outfield and on the mound.
The junior southpaw hit .366 with 18 doubles, two triples, 29 RBI and a team-best 31 walks while spending most of the time in the leadoff spot in the batting order and manning the wide-open spaces of centerfield at Ackley Park.
Davis was a lethal weapon on the mound, serving as the team's closer throughout the year. Overall, Davis notched a 5-2 record, nine saves and a team-best 1.47 ERA in a team-high 29 appearances (62 IP). His arsenal also included a deadly pickoff move, which resulted in more than 30 outs at first base during the season.
Davis will be one of the key returnees for the Travelers in 2004 and should be right at the top of the pitching rotation.Chance Gerloff began the season solely as an infielder, but by the end of the summer was one of the Travelers' top hurlers with his growing assortment of off-speed pitches, including a devastating palm-ball.
To put it simply, Gerloff can make pitches move unlike anyone to come through the program, and he seems to get better with every outing. The righthander posted a 7-2 record and 2.80 ERA in 65 innings of work. Control was the key for Gerloff, who amassed 51 strikeouts and walked only 16 hitters.
The Leedey High School junior was solid at third base and shortstop as well. Chance overcame an early slump and a mid-season knee injury with a late season surge to notch a .246 batting average, seven doubles, a triple and 18 RBIs.
Gerloff - one of the top returning prospects - also got All-Tournament honors at the USSSA World Series.
For the second straight year, the Travelers began the season with major question marks at the all-important catching position and Chickasha's Kris Palesano and Perryton's Reece Creswell stepped up to the challenge.
In his first season in the program, Palesano proved to be a solid backstop, displaying a non-stop work ethic, a .988 fielding percentage and did a fine job handling the pitching staff.
The Clarendon Junior College signee displayed a tremendous attitude all season and hit .277 with six doubles and two homeruns. He was the team leader in hit by pitches, getting plunked 12 times.
Creswell, a 6-foot-3, 210lb junior who moved up from the Travelers' Shattuck squad has, physically, what every pro scout is looking for in a prospect. Reece improved dramatically behind the plate, and carried the team at times offensively.
The hard-hitting lefthander finished with a .358 average, 13 doubles, and seven homeruns. He was also third on the team with 55 RBI. The Texas standout has the potential to be one of the top Traveler prospects in recent years if he continues to develop, and could be drafted next June.
Reece played big in big games and earned All-Tournament selections at the Andenucio Tournament (Pueblo, CO) and the USSSA World Series.
One of the biggest holes the Travelers had to fill entering the 2003 campaign was at first base, where Beau Sullivan and Matt Yost put up titanic seasons from the 2000-thru-2002 seasons.
It didn't take long for power-hitting youngster Rebel Ridling to step into the tall task of trying to fill those shoes and give the Travelers that big bat in the middle of the order.
In his first year, he did an admirable job. The Sentinel junior was a sensation on defense. With his 6-foot-4 frame, Rebel was a steady target, saving many high throws and accounting for one of the best seasons in team history with 448 putouts.
Offensively, Ridling powered his way to a .321 batting average, which included 14 doubles, a triple and six homeruns as well as 52 RBIs despite the fact that he was one of the youngest players on the entire club.
Look for big things in the future from the talented "Big Cat".
Two more newcomers from the Travelers' Shattuck squad provided major contributions in 2003 as well in Taloga's Jordy Mercer and Fargo's Travis Long.
Mercer showed incredible skills at the shortstop position despite just being 16 years old and will be one of the club's core players and top prospects the next two years.
The youngster was thrown into the fire this summer and got a lot of experience against top competition. Jordy had a tremendous Andenucio Tournament (Pueblo, CO) where he received All-Tournament honors. He ended the year with a .255 average that was aided by six doubles, a homer and 23 RBI.
Long, on the other hand, was an experienced player that could do almost anything asked of him on the field. He was a steady constant whether in the starting lineup, off the bench or out of the bullpen.
And Long was one of the finest kids to ever come through the program.
Travis wrapped out a .382 batting average while splitting time in the outfield. The southpaw also proved to be one of the team's best relievers, posting a 3-2 record and 3.94 earned run average while earning a scholarship to play next year at Clarendon Junior College after four years in the Traveler program.
Injuries shortened the campaign of Lookeba-Sickles' Lance Scales, but the junior proved that he will definitely be a player to watch next season.
Scales started the season on fire at the plate and remained red-hot until ankle and hip injuries finally began to take their toll and eventually ended his season after 56 games.
In 157 at-bats, Scales hit .350 with 26 RBIs and stole 18 bases while compiling a phenomenal on-base percentage. He should also be a mainstay on the mound for the Travelers in 2004 after posting a 1-0 record and scant 1.12 ERA in nine appearances (19 IP) this season.
Another Lookeba-Sickles product, hard-throwing 6-foot-3 righthander Brad Burns, made exciting strides as the season progressed and should be right at the front of the pitching rotation next year.
Burns tied Justin Ferguson for second on the club with 19 mound appearances while posting a 5-1 record, one save and a 3.78 ERA in 53 2/3 innings.
First-year Traveler righthanders Chris Edwards and Max Simon were two solid contributors throughout the season, and made the most of their chances with each garnering scholarships to pitch at Kansas State University next year.
Edwards was a workhorse of the pitching staff early on, compiling an 8-2 record and 3.24 ERA in 45 1/3 innings before earning an opportunity to finish the year in a Minnesota collegiate league.
Simon, a Pampa, Texas product, showed tremendous potential en route to a 4-2 overall record and 4.23 ERA in 40 innings of work.
Control was a problem at times for Max, but when he was on, he was nearly un-hittable. Simon allowed just 26 hits in 40 innings and struck out 50 hitters while pushing his fastball to 92-mph by season's end.
Cordell's Bryan Nichols went from being a year away to proving himself as a productive infielder in the second half of the season. He went on a sizzling stretch through July 1-11, going 15-for-22 and helping the Travelers to a runner-up finish in the Old South Plains tournament in Midwest City.
Bryan posted a .301 batting average, including four doubles, a homer and 10 RBIs. Nichols has sterling character and a winning attitude that could make him a key player in the Traveler lineup next year at a host of positions.
Fargo graduate Kris Webb was a prototype "Traveler."
Kris was told by coaches in the final tryout that his opportunities could be very limited, but being a third-year Traveler, he had a spot on the team. His reply, "I just want to be a part of this." And he did more then the coaches ever imagined, producing in a slew of big games throughout the season.
Webb was a defensive specialist in the outfield, and rose to the occasion numerous times with spectacular catches and notched a .349 batting average in 43 at-bats.
Kris will play collegiately at Northern Oklahoma College in Enid.
Tulsa product Brenan Geasland saw limited duty most of the season with eight mound appearances and an 8.22 ERA. He will move on to Seminole State College this year.
Also, despite not being able to play because of age restrictions this season, 2002 Traveler player and 2003 Elk City graduate Nate Smith garnered a scholarship to Barton County College in Kansas and will be a pitcher for the Cougars in 2004.
Each of the eleven graduating players earned a collegiate opportunity and join the proud ranks of over 200 other Traveler alums to play collegiately, 23 of which have played professionally.
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