by Thomas Hoffman
The Five Star Tigers had yet to trail in a game throughout its journey in the 13u Division of the 2018 US Club Nationals. Down 3-0 early, the Tigers chipped away at the Patriots’ lead, ultimately winning in walk-off fashion, 7-6, to remain undefeated and advance to the quarterfinals.
“We’ve won a lot of ballgames this year,” said head coach Andy Burress. “One thing that we do well is swing the bats. We were down early but I knew we’d come around.”
Dallas was riding a two-game win streak into the matchup and jumped on top early with three consecutive two-out doubles to drive in three runs. Justin Blancaflor, Barrett Kent and Lazaro Alvarado all came across home plate in the opening frame.
A quiet bottom half of the first let Dallas seek another run in the second. Kyler Proctor made the trip around the bases thanks to a duo of throwing errors from Five Star.
“We were up and ready to make a comeback,” said Garrett Mackowiak. “None of us lost confidence, we just were looking for pitches to hit to get on base and start a rally.”
Trailing 4-0, Riley Jackson heeded the optimism from Mackowiak and kicked the inning off with a walk. That would start a string of three consecutive hitters climbing aboard safely. Ethan Garner, Brooks Brannon and Hayden Freese each delivered RBI to bring the Tigers within one, 4-3.
In the fourth inning, Proctor tallied the second of his two base hits on the afternoon, and scored for a second time on another mistake from Five Star.
Dallas kept the lead, 5-3, until the game’s scheduled penultimate inning.
Mackowiak, who was previously 0-2 at the dish, came to the plate in the bottom of the sixth with Connor Crisp already on second. The hard-hitting right-hander muscled a double to the gap in left-center field, scoring crisp and climbing back within one.
“He’s been a big hitter for us all year long,” said Burress. “He’s a solid kid who comes up in big moments, time and time again.”
Three batters late, Garner flipped the advantage to Five Star with a crushing 2-RBI double. Suddenly, the Tigers were just three outs away from stealing a victory.
The Patriots had other ideas, however. Charles Hayden Smith trotted to first following a hit-by-pitch, and amazingly found himself scampering home on a passed ball a batter later to tie the game at six.
Five Star and Dallas had played six and one half thrilling innings and it only seemed inevitable an inning-ending double play would signal a decisive eighth inning.
With the international tie-breaker in place, Burress tagged Roberto Rodriguez to give Five Star a chance for a walk-off.
“I was waiting for my chance to do something special for my team,” Rodriguez said. “I went in there with a lot of confidence and wanted to get those guys out as fast as I could.”
A towering right-hand pitcher with big-league power, Rodriguez was more than up to the task, giving up just one walk before slamming the door shut on Dallas with a strikeout.
Sensing a little breathing room, Drew Burress moved the placed runner on second to third with a grounder to short, setting the stage for Mackowiak. Not to be denied a walk-off win, Mackowiak hammered a curveball to right field, sealing the victory, 7-6.
“I was expecting fastball,” said Mackowiak. “I was able to make an adjustment on a curveball and hit it just hard enough to make it count.”
Five Star moves into the quarterfinals where the No. 2 seed will face the No. 6 seeded Dirtbags.
“We’re prepared to go deep,” said Burress. “As we proved today, if we need to go another couple of innings to get the job done, we’re prepared to do so.”