This time last year, Bryan Burdette was nothing more than a spectator in the stands watching his kids play for the Cherokee All-Star team in the Little League Midwest Regional tournament at Indianapolis, Ind.

This time last year, Bryan Burdette was nothing more than a spectator in the stands watching his kids play for the Cherokee All-Star team in the Little League Midwest Regional tournament at Indianapolis, Ind.

This year is a little different.

Burdette will be taking the Cherokee 11-12 All-Stars back to the Midwest Regional tournament as they make a run at Williamsport, Pa., and the Little League World Series.

“It was kind of nice not having any responsiblity last year,” Burdette said. “I could swim, play with the kids, and go to the games in the evening, but I am looking forward to this and spending time with the kids.”

It was not an easy road for Cherokee to make a return trip to the Midwest Regional.

“The first few games of the South Regional, it seemed like we were a little sluggish and we were swinging at bad pitches,” Burdette said.

After making it through the South Regional, Cherokee went on to the Little League Kansas State tournament where they faced their archrivals in Riverton.

Riverton handed Cherokee their first loss of the tournament, but Burdette said that may have been the best thing to happen to Cherokee.

“That loss was a big key for us,” Burdette said. “We got refocused and had some quality practices and got to where we were working the count better.

“After that, we started to hit the ball very well.”

Burdette went so far as to tell his team that the Riverton loss was actually good for them.

“One of the things that was not real positive was that when we went to Indianapolis last year, we had just played six games,” Burdette said. “There were a couple of teams that had 16 postseason games and we had wished that we could have played more games and this was our chance.”

He went so far as to include a lesson after the loss. He told the team that the measure of a champion is not the wins or losses but how you react after a loss.

The team took that to heart and knocked off Riverton in dramatic fashion in the championship game after Caleb Spangler drilled a walk-off grand slam to win the game in the final inning.

That was after Riverton picked up the lead in the inning before off none other than Spangler.

“You could see our heads go down after that,” Burdette said. “I told Caleb that we did not need a home run but just a base hit, and I was very confident with Caleb batting.”

Now, Cherokee returns to Indianapolis where, Burdette said, the expectations are higher than they were a year ago.

“Last year we went there and played the team from Minnesota, and they beat us 2-0 in our first game,” Burdette said. “After that, we did not seem to do any better, but this year we have kids that are returning and they have that experience, and I feel very good about our team.”

In the first game of the Regional tournament this year, Cherokee will take on North/South Dakota, a team that Burdette knows little about.

“I expect our kids to come out and be excited,” Burdette said. “We just need to be relaxed and excited and realize that this is a great opportunity.”

Over the course of the Little League All-Star season, Burdette said his team has grown and matured more than even he expected.

“Before, we would not have kids take a 3-0 pitch but we talked to them about being unselfish and that taking that pitch is a very unselfish thing to do,” Burdette said. “Now, they will let that go because that is what is best for the team.”

In fact, the theme of the Cherokee team over the last few games has been “together.”

“We have done everything together,” Burdette said. “We come off the field together, on the field together and the kids have bought into that.”

Matthew Clark can be reached at matthew.clark@morningsun.net or at 620-231-2600, Ext. 140.

Little League Midwest Regional tournament
at Indianapolis, Ind.
July 30 - Aug. 9
Thursday, July 31
Iowa vs. Columbia, Mo., 1:30 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 1
Cherokee, Kan. vs. North/South Dakota, 10:30 a.m.
Minnesota vs. Kearney, Neb., 1:30 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 2
Cherokee, Kan. vs, Kearney, Neb., 4:30 p.m.
Iowa vs. North/South Dakota, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, Aug. 3
Columbia, Mo. vs. Minnesota, 7:30 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 4
Iowa vs. Cherokee, Kan., 1:30 p.m.
North/South Dakota vs. Minnesota, 4:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 5
Columbia, Mo. vs. North/South Dakota, 10:30 a.m.
Iowa vs. Kearney, Neb., 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 6
Columbia, Mo. vs. Kearney, Neb., 1 p.m.
Cherokee, Kan. vs. Minnesota, 4:30 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 7
Second-place team vs. Third-place team, 10:30 a.m.
First-place team vs. Fourth-place team, 1:30 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 9
Semifinal winner 1 vs. Semifinal winner 2, 12 p.m.