Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Summer Little League classic returns to Hailey

36th annual Nelson tournament fires up this weekend

Express Staff Writer

Arms will be loosened and gloves oiled in preparation for the 36th annual Ray Nelson Invitational Little League tournament, which will take place on Friday and Saturday, July 20 and 21.

The Wood River Valley's biggest event of the summer baseball season, which has become a "rite of passage" for young ballplayers, will showcase three area teams out of 19 competitors.

The result of a tremendous effort of local volunteers, especially event organizers and Bellevue residents Mike and Buffy Brunker, this summer classic is named after Ray Nelson, a baseball booster who bequeathed a love of the game to family members and friends when he passed away in 1970.

The Nelson family organized the tournament for 25 years, helping it become one of the state's premiere Little League tournament. In fact, it's become so popular that Mike Brunker has found himself in the unenviable position of having to turn teams away.

"The Nelson tournament is a favorite for Idaho's Little League teams to come to," Brunker said during a recent interview. "Unfortunately we had to turn five teams away. We just need more fields so more teams can get involved."

Games begin Friday at 8 a.m., with area teams taking to the field in the quest to return glory to their home fields, as no Wood River team has won the Nelson since 2000.

Wood River South, coached by Tony Benson, will take on the Mini-Cassia Express in the "Minor Division," which is made up of seven teams of 9-10 year olds. Benson's team includes Reide Whitehead, Will Long, Nick Tidwell, Jimmy Graves, Hagan Barsh, Austin Savaria, Tristan Kulhanek, Gage Jorgenson, Jason Williams, Cody Carter, Mick Dawson, Cooper Moore, Brandon Benson, and Cameron Benson.

In the 12-team 11-12 year-old "Major Division," Wood River East, coached by Mike Brunker, will play the Burley Yankees. Playing for Brunker are Nickolas Brunker, Eli McNees, Parker Weeks, Kevin Cooley, Braxton Parish, Emmet Fortuin, Ben Williams, Luke Bird, K.J. Savaria, K.T. Martinez, Colton Braatz, Johnny Paris, and Tim Boyle.

"We have a good enough team to win as long as we stay focused" Brunker said, adding that his team has been to the championship twice, losing both games by a single run.

Wood River West, also in the Major Division and coached by Don Cooper, will take the field against the Mini-Cassia Bandits.

Cooper's team includes Drew Barsch, Kyle Clark, Shelby Cooper, Gray David, Anders Fortuin, Connor Hall, Finn Isaacson, Scott Jorgenson, Marshal Rayburn, Steve Trautwein, Chris Traylor, and Luke Young.

Other teams participating in the two-day tournament, in which each team is guaranteed to play three games, come from Meridian, Twin Falls, Heyburn, Nampa, and Jerome.

Championship games in each division will take place at 4:45 p.m. Saturday. All games will are at Nelson Field, sandwiched between the Hailey elementary School and the rodeo grounds.

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