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Central Valley claims title
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Modesto's Bill Barhite has been coaching youth baseball for seven years. He's never won a national championship.

Led by Ceres Youth Baseball products Walter Claudio Jr., Adrian Sandoval, Ricky Walters, Ryan Berndt, Steven Barhite, Louie Figueroa, Tyler Love and Drew Palomar, the Central Valley Rebels 14-and-under traveling baseball team finished first in a field of eight at the 2003-2004 Super-Series American Division Winter National Championships at the Peoria Sports Complex in Arizona on Jan. 3.

"Most of these kids have been playing together for the last seven or eight years at Costa Fields," Barhite said. "They're best friends. They hang out on the weekends."

Central Valley was awarded a glass championship trophy and each player received a medal, watch and hat.

"We also won $900, which will help pay for national championship rings," Barhite said.

Central Valley compiled an 8-1 record at the national tournament. The Rebels went 4-0 in the double-elimination championship bracket.

Competition was fierce

"We knew the competition was going to be really high," Barhite said. "People weren't driving from different states to play there to lose."

"Everyone did something to help us win," Barhite said. "There were a number of kids on the team that batted .500 for the tournament."

Central Valley, the tournament's No. 3 seed, played the Arizona Skyhawks, the No. 1 seed, in the finals on Jan. 3. Facing elimination, the Skyhawks needed to defeat the Rebels twice to claim the championship. Central Valley posted an 11-3 victory over Arizona.

"We had great defense and pitching and really good hitting," Barhite said.

Central Valley earned the No. 3 seed after compiling a 4-1 record in pool play.

"Our first three batters got hits and that kind of took all of the pressure off in the first game," Barhite said.

Claudio Jr. was the offensive MVP of the tournament. The Cerean played catcher and center fielder and batted in the heart of the lineup. He hit .667 with eight RBIs and 16 stolen bases.

"He hit real well," Barhite said. "I don't think he struck out one time in nine games."

Central Valley compiled a 55-8 record over the last six months. The Rebels dominated at the local level as they won four tournaments at Rainbow Fields.

Central Valley took a couple weeks off and is planning to play in a few tournaments at Rainbow Fields.

Readying for high school

"I want to help get the kids ready for high-school or pony-league baseball," Barhite said.

Barhite is hoping to lead the same group of players to a 15-and-under national title in the near future.

"I don't know of a team that has been together for just a year and has won a national title," Barhite said. "We'll try to go back to Arizona next winter and win again." - By DALE BUTLER / Staff Reporter of The Ceres (Calif.) Courier