It might be as simple as finding his groove.

Not in the batter's box, but in the car on the ride to the game.

"Every team needs someone who keeps it light," Ahwatukee Little League Minors coach Bill Weaver said. "We have been working hard for three weeks now. There are times when it is intense, but we have to have fun, too."

That's when Zac Paquette usually steps to the forefront.

"Whether it is dancing in the car or making a joke at the right time, Zac is our resident cut-up," Weaver said. "He just has a great sense of humor."

As Weaver intimated, this time of the year - when the best from Little League districts like Ahwatukee come together to form one all-star team per age group to essentially take on the rest of the state - it can become serious business.

Certain programs dictate that an eligible player cannot have any family vacation time during the all-star season and tension in final innings of a close game - especially among those sitting in the chairs surrounding the field - is palpable.

For a successful organization like Ahwatukee the expectations on these youngsters can be immense so if Garret Redaja of the Majors squad can do something to bring a little levity all the better.

"There is a time and place for everything, and Garrett knows when he can do something to really lighten the mood," Majors coach Mike Mettner said. "He really does a great job of knowing the pulse of the team. It's why I made him team captain because he is my eyes and ears for everything going on with the team."

Redaja said the role of captain and team jokester can go hand-in-hand.

"I have to keep them up and going," the second baseman said. "No matter what, we have to stay positive. Sometimes I have to pump them up and sometimes it is about making them laugh."

While the mix of work and joking around can be difficult to juggle at times, the Ahwatukee squads are doing something right as the District 13 All-Star tournaments head into semifinal action Friday at the Tempe Sports Complex.

The three youngest teams - with one game left each on Thursday - were in line to qualify for the Friday semifinals at Tempe Sports Complex with the Minors, or 9- and 10-year-olds, winning its first five games, the Majors, made up of 11- and 12-year-olds, winning four of its first five and the 10- to 11-year olds winning two of its first four.

While Mike Popeck, the coach of the 11-year-old team, said no one on his roster really has step ped forward as the team's funny bone, they do have someone playing a role that is vital to any team's success as the unsung hero, Craig Counsell-type.

"Sean Murphy isn't the best player on the team, and probably was one of the last to make the roster, but I know for a fact that he will do whatever I need him to do and do it well," Popeck said. "Every good team has to have someone fill that role."

Murphy said he'd love to play every inning of every game, but understands the bigger picture.

"I'm not one of the best, but I am going to compete," said Murphy, who started the winning rally in Game 1 of the tournament. "Games are won late in the game and that's when I want to be part of it."


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