The Junior Sunbelt Classic offers some of the best high school baseball talent in the nation a chance to compete and grow heading into their senior year of high school.
Then there's some of the lucky few who get to play in the event after their sophomore season and come back after wrapping up their junior years. Such is the case for some this year who were back at it after playing in the Sunbelt in 2018.
"It's big time, for sure," said Blayze Berry of Team Mississippi.
Berry said he got down on himself as he didn't play much early on, but realized he had to wait for his opportunity and take advantage. He had one win in 9.1 innings pitched while also contributing a home run with three RBIs and four runs scored.
"Through a week with the guys you've never even met before, you learn a lot about them and learn a lot about yourself, and you really get to know who you are as a player, for sure," he said.
Berry said the pressure to succeed at Sunbelt was still there, but the Mississippi State University commit said he is stronger, throws harder and can swing it better.
His favorite part of Sunbelt has been the atmosphere and how caring the families are. He called McAlester, "awesome" while commending the job the host families do.
Michael Stremlaw has had the pleasure of playing for Team Canada in both 2018 and 2019. The right-handed pitcher was been happy to represent his home country once again.
"It's pretty cool," Stremlaw said. "This is probably one of the best tournaments I've played at."
Stremlaw said praised the community feel. He said there was nothing else like it, and getting to play again at Mike Deak Field pushes him to his limits.
He learned when he played at Sunbelt last year that he had a lot of nerves and he must use his mental capabilities to push through. Stremlaw makes sure to stay calm and clear his head to get rid of the nerves.
"It's taken me 17 years to figure out that my mind is a good part of playing the game of baseball," he said. "So, I'd say last year, in the McAlester tournament, I learned how to control my mind when I go out there and pitch."
Team Arizona went an undefeated 9-0 to win the 2018 Sunbelt. One of those players, Michael Brueser, was back on the team this year.
Brueser played no small role in that Arizona championship last year when he knocked in 10 runs.
He said that team just had that mindset. He mentioned a player last year, Grant Gorrell, said Arizona would go undefeated after winning its first game against Team Texas, 10-4.
"We just rode that wave through the entire tournament," Brueser said.
Brueser remembered the dog pile after Arizona knocked off Team Colorado for the championship, 8-3. He was in centerfield and threw his glove in the air after the final out.
His advice to his teammates this year was they couldn't go all out the first day and have no energy the rest of the week.
He'll miss the environment of Sunbelt, from the kids to the host families to the camaraderie.
Team Missouri had five 2020 graduates on its 2018 Sunbelt Team, and all five are back this year. Trevor Kardell, Trevor Austin, Noah Burkey, Jacob Misiorowski and Kamron Morris are all trying to lead the Show Me State to its second Sunbelt crown in the last three years.
"It's really good ball down here and I just love playing good talent," Morris said.
Morris batted .083 last year for Team Missouri. He called the 2018 Sunbelt a big eye opener and said he has improved at the plate. Morris said he's ready for the pitching this year, which he wasn't a year ago. He had pitchers throw to him to get ready for Sunbelt.
Getting to play in Sunbelt a second time gave Morris the confidence that he's one of the top players in his state.
"I was so excited," Morris said. "I thank Coach (Tom) Scarbrough for letting me come back."
Kardell loved Sunbelt last year, and loved it even more this year. He knew some of his teammates going into this year's Sunbelt, but felt like he had been playing multiple tournaments with this year's squad after Missouri's first game. Kardell praised how well Team Missouri clicked.
He thinks last year's Missouri squad was worried about the fans in stands looking at them and making sure they were doing well. Kardell said this year's team was just playing and having fun.
Kardell said there is no other tournament like Sunbelt, and his breath was taken away at how nice the host families all are.
He also praised the town of McAlester. Kardell said how happy McAlester looks and there doesn't appear to be anything bad about it.
"I would be perfectly okay living here because it just seems like a positive atmosphere," Kardell said. "It's pretty incredible."
Contact Corey Stolzenbach at CStolzenbach@mcalesternews.com