by Kyle Koso
When their lead was chipped away Saturday, the Five Star Tigers 13u team made sure their day wouldn't turn out to be a bust.
Jumping ahead by five runs in their U. S. Club Nationals championship game against the Dallas Patriots wasn't quite enough for the Tigers, but their offense caught fire in short order to rebuild the lead and guide them to a 12-6 victory at East Cobb Park. The Tigers (who closed a perfect 7-0 in the event) rung up four runs in the fifth to regain control, and strong relief pitching work from Roberto Rodrigues closed the door.
"From Day 1, these guys have been battlers. We were down 12-0 and came back to win (earlier in the tournament), and they just don't get down regardless of who's pitching, or whatever," said Tigers coach Andy Burress. "Anytime you can put pressure on someone by the way you swing the bat, that turns around and helps the defensive side."
The Patriots pulled ahead 2-0 as Ethan Mendoza doubled and scored in the first and Barrett Kent doubled and scored in the second. J.D. Coleman came through with the first crucial at-bat of the game for the Tigers, tripling in two runs in the bottom of the third and getting his squad up on the scoreboard, 3-2. Coleman went on to notch two more hits and two more runs, along with two stolen bases.
He was right in the middle of the action in that four-run fifth inning; he also had three teammates hit doubles in Drew Burress, Hayden Freese and Conner Crisp.
"J.D. is one of our original guys, and he went through a spell there a while ago where he just didn't grow," coach Burress said. "He was a little behind and kept working; he put in the work and it showed all summer."
"On the triple, I got behind in the count but I fought my way back," Coleman said. "That was fun. We felt confident we could swing the bats; that was a good team we played, and youjust had to compete with them."
Drew Burress had two doubles and drove in two runs from the leadoff spot; he agreed that a summer's worth of potent offense was enough to keep the team confident when the Patriots closed the margin to 7-6.
"We've been swinging the bats well all week, so we knew we didn't have to press. If we just did what we've done the whole time, we knew we'd be all right," said Drew, who actually started the game off with a strikeout. "After that, I tried to make sure I didn't try too much to pull the ball as I did the first time. I tried to really hit a home run there, which is the kind of thing you do when you're on TV, I guess."
Brooks Bannon had two hits, a run and two RBI for the Tigers, while Crisp had a double and a triple. Mendoza closed with three hits and two runs for the Patriots; Lazaro Alvarado added two hits and an RBI.
by Kyle Koso
As far as gems go, it's probably fair to say Wyatt Strahl's pitching performance had an occasional flaw.
But his 6-4-3 DP 14u team knows when something beautiful is displayed, and you'd have to grant the point that Strahl did everything required Saturday, throwing a complete-game two-hitter as 6-4-3 eased past the Five Star Tigers 2-0 in the U. S. Club Nationals championship game.
Dawson Campbell brought in the game-winning run with a two-out single in the fourth, and 6-4-3 got a nice insurance run in the fifth as 24 singled and 25 doubled with two outs. Strahl wobbled at times, allowing five walks and a hit batter in the first three innings, but he settled down nicely and allowed just one baserunner in the last four innings. That runner was wiped out on, appropriately, a 6-4-3 double play.
"I was kind of nervous at the start, especially being on national television (ESPN3). My teammates were helping me, and I finally found the perfect spot and started rolling," Strahl said. "When I was in the dugout I was all mad because of the walks, but they kept high-fiving me, and I did what I could for my team. I was very happy when we scored, and we were all screaming and having fun. I finally got to feel a bit more comfortable, pitching with a lead."
Casual Kay slapped a double in the fourth for the 6-4-3 squad and took third on a wild pitch. After a popout, Dawson came up and put a solid swing on the ball to drive in the first run.
"I went up and tried to barrel the baseball, what I try to do every time. Casual got on second base, and that helped me out," Dawson said. "Before that, we were all amped up, knowing we are on TV and very excited. We had some jitters ... coming through the loser's bracket was a little scary, but we knew we had a baseball game to win, and we did that then, and here.
"Wyatt ... he shoved, he balled out there. He didn't have his best stuff, but he figured it out."
Strahl wrapped up his shutout in the seventh with a fly ball to left, a strikeout, and a groundout to third base.
"I knew his pitch count was getting high, but we executed our pickoffs so well, and that must have saved us 20 or 30 or 40 pitches. That allowed him to settler in and finish the fifth, sixth and seventh," said 6-4-3 head coach Jamaal Hawkins. "He threw really well then. Dawson has been hitting balls hard all year, and he hit a lot of balls at people in this tournament. I knew when he hit one hard, one had to drop, and when it did, it was awesome.
"This team believes in each other. They know on any given day they can lose, but if they play well they have a chance to beat anybody."
Despite the loss, the Five Star Tigers still put up important points on the board in the race for the Organizational Championship, and the Tigers ended up winning that trophy, breaking the two-year streak of the teams with East Cobb.
by Jason Hanes
Carter Blankinship tossed a complete game, allowing just four runs to help deliver SBA Canes the 11u Championship at the Triple Crown U.S. Club Nationals with a 6-4 win over the East Cobb Astros Saturday afternoon in Marietta, Ga.
"This guy was unbelieveable," said SBA Canes head coach Ross Blankinship said of his starting pitcher. "He's not one of our usual starters. We asked him to go out there and fill up the zone for six innings. He did a fantastic job getting ahead in the counts and keeping batters off-balance."
It was a strong first inning for the SBA Canes as three runs came across in the top half of the inning and they set the East Cobb Astros down in order. Blankinship helped his own cause before he ever stepped on the mound in his start by singling to drive home the first run. After Ezra Taylor's fielder's choice drove in a second run, another single and a wild pitch gave the SBA Canes their third run of the frame.
"Every time I pitch with a lead, I feel better. I'm more confident," said Blankinship.
Blankinship's bat came up big again in the second, as his two-out single through the middle of the infield plated a pair of runs to stretch the lead to 5-0. "I tried to make contact with it," Blankinship said. "I was down in the count and just tried to make contact with it, and I got a hit."
Macon Leppert then continued the second inning scoring as he drove Blankinship home with a single to make it another three-run inning and a 6-0 affair.
"We talk about it all the time; get ahead, win innings, and give yourself a cushion," said Coach Blankinship. "It helps take some of the pressure off if we can get some productive outs."
Blankinship allowed only a walk through two innings, but but a leadoff error in the bottom of the third led to three East Cobb runs. With two men out, Eli Pitts connected for a two-run shot over the 15-foot fence in center 265-feet for the big blow of the inning. Ethan Murray would shoot an RBI single to center for the final run of the frame.
Blankinship would settle back in, keeping the East Cobb Astros off-balance and, more importantly, off the scoreboard. Colin White would also have a solid three innings on the hill for the East Cobb Astros in relief allowing just two hits and two walks while giving his team a chance to come back.
With his team down to its final two outs, Murray would come up big for his side again in the bottom of the sixth. His single just past the shortstop would bring home a run to make it 6-4 and bring the tying run to the plate. Blankinship would bear down on the mound, and would get the final outs to end the game, with a liner to short ending the contest and sending the SBA Canes into a victorious dogpile.
"This team has come a long way this year," Coach Blankinship said. "We've had a lot of kids, from personal development, get to learn new positions and expand their knowledge of the game. The experience this week has been phenomenal. Whenever you can come to East Cobb and play at what we call the 'Baseball Mecca' is an awesome experience."
"I love playing on this field," said the younger Blankinship. "It's been a lot of fun coming here."
by Thomas Hoffman
The 12u Five Star Tigers returned to East Cobb, GA, as defending US Club Nationals champions after an 11u title run in 2017. Not only did the Tigers defend their championship, Josh Baker’s crew did so in undefeated fashion, including the 7-2 victory over Dirtbags to claim the second of back-to-back trophies.
“It was an unbelievable gritty performance this week,” said Baker. “We had tough pool games against two of the teams that ended up in the championship bracket.
“We used a little bit more pitching than we expected in pool play but we just grinded through it. It wasn’t just the star players, the role players also played a huge part in our success this week.”
Facing the same Dirtbags team that Five Star matched up against in a dramatic, 8-7, semifinal, the Tigers were looking at a tough championship battle. Of six games Five Star played in, the Dirtbags were the only team that managed to climb within three runs.
Baker tabbed Parker McCoy to start on the hill for Five Star. After walking the first two batters and giving up the opening run, McCoy rallied back to close off the inning with a strikeout.
“He’s been the best player on the planet this week,” Baker said. “He was just off the plate a little bit to start the game. He settled down quickly, dialed in and was phenomenal.”
The Tigers were threatening to strike back in the bottom of the first with runners on second and third and just one out. Isaac Newman, who had reached safely in all but two plate appearances the entire week, stepped to the plate. Despite Newman’s powerful shot to left field, Brantley Truitt caught the rocket in left field and doubled off Five Star at second base to end the inning.
McCoy, down a run, trotted out to the field but remained confident.
“I was feeling good since the moment I woke up,” said McCoy. “We had already beat the Dirtbags yesterday. Seeing their lineup before, I knew what I was going to have to face today.”
In four innings of work, McCoy gave up just the initial run in the first inning, struck out three and walked only four batters.
Five Star’s offense kicked into high gear in the bottom of the second inning. McCoy lead the frame off with a walk and didn’t have to wait long to make it home as Jace Glisson drove him across the plate with a fielder’s choice. Glisson, Aidan Lynch and Jackson Roper all delivered RBI as part of a four-run inning.
While McCoy was busy helping the team on the mound, he helped himself in the bottom of the third. With two outs and the bases empty, McCoy caught all of a 2-2 pitch, sending it to opposite field in right, well over the 250-foot fence.
“It was a fastball right down the middle,” said McCoy. “I was locked in and made a good swing on it.”
After adding a run to extend the margin, 6-1, in the fourth, Baker and boys looked to put the game out of reach in the fifth. As Sean Benjamin climbed aboard with a hit-by-pitch, Isaac Newman could almost taste an RBI as he stepped to the plate. Newman’s hot streak in the tournament continued as he clamored a double to score Benjamin and give his team a 7-1 lead.
“This was going to be the last tournament with this team,” said Newman. “I wanted to help them out as much as I could and really make a difference in our last go around.”
Needing just three outs, Baker turned the keys over Dawson Shelton to close things out. Dirtbags didn’t just pack it in during the final frame, though. Cameron Bagwell and Sam Hucko plated runs to draw within four, 7-3.
Ultimately, Shelton forced back-to-back pop outs, ending the game and sealing another championship for Baker and the Five Star Tigers.
“This tournament is as close to a high school or college tournament as you’ll find on the travel ball circuit,” said Baker. “You’re not just playing for your team, you’re playing for your entire organization.
“To be able to contribute for two years in a row as champions is a great feeling. You feel like you’ve accomplished something as a team for the greater good of the organization.”
The 12u US Club Nationals title didn’t just have significant impact on the coaches but on this special group of players as well.
“I’ve played with these guys for six years,” Newman said. “It means a lot to be able to leave this group as champions. These are my brothers.”
by Kyle Koso
Championship Day has arrived at the U.S. Club Nationals, with a couple of organizations dialing in on the coveted Club Champion trophy awaiting its destination when the dust clears Saturday.
The 13u and 14u title games will be broadcasted on ESPN3, with the 13u going at noon and the 14u game slated for 3 p.m. at East Cobb Park. The Five Star Tigers (FL) have gone 6-0 overall and thus secured a berth in the 13u final game; they will face a well-known program out of the Texas Metroplex, either the Dallas Patriots or the Dallas Tigers-Leonard/Nicholson. The Patriots won a tense, taut 15-12 extra-inning thriller over the Dirtbags (NC) to advance through the loser's bracket late Friday.
The 14u title game has another Five Star Tigers team locked into position; they will face either 6-4-3 DP Athletics or whoever emerges from early Saturday action in the loser's bracket -- Slammers-Asnicar (CO) or the Georgia Bombers.
Championship games for the 9u, 10u, 11u and 12u age groups will all start at 1:40 p.m. Saturday at East Cobb.
It's the Five Star Tigers again perched at the top of the winner's bracket in the 12u; they are 5-0 but had to survive a tough 9-8 game against the Dirtbags in the semis. The Dirtbags are still in the fight in the loser's bracket, as are the Dallas Raiders and the SBA Canes (SC).
The 11u championship game has the East Cobb Astros already in the mix, and they will face either the SBA Canes, Five Star Tigers and Canes in the final. The 10u title game looks very similar in makeup, with East Cobb Astros already in and Five Star Tigers, Canes and Dirtbags all looking to grab the other berth.
Finally, in 9u, the SBA Canes and SBA Dodgers are in the top of the bracket, with the winner early Saturday set for the final. The loser of that game has one more chance in the bottom of the bracket, as do the East Cobb Astros.
by Thomas Hoffman
Following two dramatic walk-off victories, the 13u Five Star Tigers were looking for something with a little less tension in the semifinal matchup against the Dallas Tigers. Amassing 21 runs in four innings, Five Star cruised to the championship game, 21-6.
“This team has had the same approach for a while now,” said head coach Andy Burress. “They’ve played together for a long time. We attack the baseball, and that’s an organizational thing that we’ve had for 15 years.”
After giving up a run in the top of the first inning, Five Star erupted for seven runs in the bottom half. In total, 12 batters came to the plate for the Tigers. The inning was highlighted by back-to-back two-RBI doubles from Hayden Freese and Robert Lane.
“I was looking for fastballs,” said Lane. “If I didn’t get a fastball, I wasn’t going to swing. When I did get the fastball, I smashed it.”
Dallas retaliated well after giving up a crooked number. The Tigers batted a round of their own, sending nine players to the plat. Jhett Creel, Aidan Esquivel and Jason Miller all deliver RBI for a four-run answer, closing the gap, 7-5.
“When the game got close, we tried to keep the energy level up,” said Freese. “We didn’t want them to get any more runs back and we wanted to put the pedal to the metal.”
Every Five Star batter saw at least one plate appearance for the second straight inning. Matching the effort in the opening frame, the Tigers combined for another seven runs. Drew Burress’ three-run bomb was a small part of the big inning that stretched the Five Sta lead, 14-5.
“In the game of baseball, you have to have different guys step up,” said coach Burress. “Our best starter didn’t have it today, but we made it up with hits like Drew’s.”
As Dallas went quiet on the offensive end, Five Star looked to put the game out of reach in the bottom of the third inning. Brooks Brannon and Hayden Freese remained hot as they plated three more runs, extending the margin, 17-5.
In the bottom of the fourth, Five Star need four runs to officially close out the contest. Drew Burress’ second extra-base effort of the afternoon signaled the start of another big inning. Three batters later, Ethan Garner knocked in Riley Jackson to make the run-rule official, 21-6.
“We’ve been good all week long,” said Freese. “At this point in the week, it’s just about remaining true to what we’ve done, keep up the intensity and bring the defense.”
Five Star will await the winner of the all Dallas semifinal as the Patriots take on the Tigers Saturday morning.
“There’s a lot of good teams here,” said Burress. “As an organization, we’ve had success in the lower age groups.
“We were determined to make a good showing in the 13’s and 14’s this year. I’m proud of this group of kids and what they’ve proved they can do so far. I have no doubt they’ll come out tomorrow with the same intensity.”
by Jason Hanes
Seeing a knuckleball specialist isn't as common in baseball as it used to be. Needing to stay alive at the Triple Crown U.S. Club Nationals, the Dallas Patriots called on their specialist to stay alive.
In a game that seemed like the team with the last swings would win, a solid relief pitching performance by Dayton Tockey lifted Patriots 13u squad to a 15-12 (7) win over the Dirtbags to stay alive in bracket play at the Triple Crown U.S. Club Nationals.
"I throw that pitch pretty frequently," said Tockey after securing his side's come-from-behind victory. "It usually works for me."
With the game tied going into extra innings, the International Tiebreaker Rule went into effect. As the visiting team the Patriots started the inning with a runner on second. The Patriots would get a run to take a 13-12 lead, but the big blow of the inning would come off the bat of Alex Cruz. Facing a new pitcher, Cruz would line a single back up the middle to plate a pair of runs and give his side a 15-12 lead.
"I was down in the count 1-2," Cruz said. "I knew [the pitcher] was going to come with something offspeed, so I just stayed back on it and drove it up the middle."
After an uneventful top of the first, the Dirtbags struck for a pair in the bottom of the inning. After a two-out single put a runner on, Colton Wombles ripped a two-run homer well out to left field to give his side a 2-0 advantage.
The Patriots answered right back to start the second. Cruz, who entered in relief on the mound late in the first inning, jumped on a 1-1 offering and sent it out to left-center field to help his own cause and cut the lead in half.
The Dirtbags got the run back in the bottom of the inning as Shelton Bocook led off with a double, moved to third on a wild pitch, then scored on an RBI ground out by Lucas Slagle. Again, the Patriots would rally back. Ryan Butler led off the top of the third with a homer to right, and the Patriots would get two men on with two out. This time, though, Cruz would pop out to second to end the threat and keep the lead with the Dirtbags.
In the bottom of the inning, the Dirtbags manufactured a pair of runs to stretch the lead to three. After a double and two walks loaded the bases, Bocook lifted a sacrifice fly to score the first run of the frame. Then, with the runners in motion, Ethan Gibson poked a hit-and-run single through the left side of the infield to score a run and make it 5-2.
The Patriots came right back again in the top of the fourth, as three straight singles loaded the bases with no one out. After a pair of strikeouts, a grand slam by Aidan Smith to left-center on a 1-1 count gave the Patriots their first lead of the game, 6-5. Later in the inning, a single back up the middle by Lazaro Alvarado tacked on another run to make it 7-5.
The Dirtbags would answer back to get two more on the board to knot the score. With two men on, Walker Jenkins laced a double into right-center. One run scored, but a strong relay throw nailed the would-be tying run at the plate for the second out of the inning. Two batters later the Dirtbags would get that tying run as Wombles singled just inside the bag at third to make it 7-all.
The lead shifted back to the Patriots in the fifth. With a runner on, a full-count offering to Bralen Lopez was served back over the wall in left-center to give the Patriots a 9-7 lead.
With time running out, the Dirtbags came back to make things interesting. A two-out double to right center by Jaden Marvin made it 9-8 , and then a single to center by Jaxon Milam tied the game again, 9-9. Jenkins then drilled a 3-run home run to right to make it a 12-9 contest. Time nearly expired on the game and ended the tournament for the Patriots, but a fly out on the next Dirtbags batter meant that the sixth inning would start with only a minute left on the time limit clock, giving the Patriots life.
The Patriots would answer yet again in the sixth, putting two runs on the board and the tying and go-ahead runs on base with only one out. After a pop-out, a single loaded the bases with two men out for the Patriots. With the tournament on the line, a hit batter tied the game 12-all. A fly-out would end the inning, though, as the Patriots left the bases loaded. This time, facing Tockey, the Dirtbags wouldn't be able to answer and the game would go to extra innings.
In extras, Cruz's big hit provided the three-run lead, and Tockey would retire the side, not allowing any runs to cross the plate to give his team the 15-12 win.
"It felt good to shut them down, because I love pressure situations," Tockey said. "I love coming up big for my team, and I love just playing with these guys."
"It was a crazy game," Cruz said. "It was back and forth. Each team had their moments. I just knew when I hit that ball back up the middle that it broke it open. It was a very fun experience."
"They've been doing this all year, so this doesn't shock me," said Patriots head coach Brandon Sherard. "We stay under control really well. We know any game, we're not out of it. We swing the bats well, we throw strikes, and we play defense well. What impressed me the most today was their heart and grittiness."
The win keeps the Dallas Patriots alive for a contest against cross-town rival Dallas Tigers Leonard/Nicholson Saturday morning at 9 a.m. to determine who moves on to face the Five-Star Tigers in the 13u Championship game at 12 p.m. on ESPN3.
by Thomas Hoffman
Since the inception of US Club Nationals in 2016, the Dallas Tigers have represented well each and every year. Last year, Dallas Tigers-Polk went the distance, capturing the 13u crown. The Leonard-Nicholson version of the Tigers has set out to equal what their counterparts did just 365 days ago.
As the No. 5 seed out of pool play, the Tigers have rung up back-to-back wins. An opening round 5-3 win over Slammers left the Tigers to face Lonestar Elite for a spot in the semifinals. Methodical, precision-like baseball led Dallas to a 10-3 route and one game closer to the 13u title match.
“We have a great group of guys that we believe can do awesome things,” said head coach Nathan Leonard. “We’ve put each and every one of these guys in positions to challenge themselves and make a play for the team. We believe in them and they believe in themselves and have been able to come through in key moments.”
It was Lonestar that struck the first blow in Friday afternoon’s quarterfinal matchup. Aidan Perry’s RBI-single gave his team a quick 1-0 start.
Dallas’ nerves seemed unrattled, though. Lead-off hitter Jhett Creel returned serve with a single of his own and by the time Aiden Esquivel came to the plate, he had two runners in scoring position. Esquivel launched a powerful shot to left-center field, scoring two runs, leapfrogging Lonestar with a triple.
“I’ve been very focused on doing the fundamentals right,” Esquivel said. “I wanted to just hit through the ball and not try to do anything fancy. I was really happy I was able to accomplish what I wanted to do.”
Esquivel, the Tigers’ pitcher, kept Lonestar at bay until the top of the order came around for the second time in the third inning. Perry reached first safely again with a walk and two consecutive hits from Hank Benny and Aiden Perry pushed a pair of runs home, bringing Lonestar within one, 4-3.
“Today was like a Sunday championship game,” said Jason Miller. “It was win or go home. Things got close there, but I knew as long as I did my job, my teammates would do the same and we would get the job done.”
Miller didn’t flash an all-star caliber stat line, however, when it came time for a sacrifice, Miller was eager to accept the task at hand. His sac-fly in the bottom of the third inning gave Dallas a two-run cushion, 5-3, affording Esquivel and the pitching staff a little more breathing room.
“I don’t care about get hits or smashing home runs,” explained Miller. “It’s about doing your job and getting runs in.”
The Tiger’s go-to sacrifice fly hitter reared his head again in the fifth inning, driving in the second of his three RBI on the day.
Dallas broke the game wide open in the bottom of the sixth inning. Ten batters came to the plate in the half-inning as the Tigers drove in four runs on just one hit, while earning six walks. Suddenly, the lead stretched from three to seven, 10-3.
Nathan Leonard tabbed Miller to finish off the contest in the top of the final frame. Miller walked one but circled back with a strikeout and a line-drive to himself to seal the win and vault Dallas into the 13u semifinals.
The Tigers earn the right to face a Five Star program coming off back-to-back walk-off finishes, with the winner advancing the Saturday’s championship game.
“We believe we have the tools to make it to the next game,” Leonard said. “Our job right now is to play some Tiger baseball like we’ve done in the past, and who wouldn’t want to do it with this group of men. I’ve seen them break any challenge that comes their way.”
by Jason Hanes
Ethan Garner's walk-off three-run homer with two out in the bottom of the sixth capped a incredible rally as Five-Star Tigers 13u came back from a 12-0 deficit to defeat Dirtbags 14-13 on Friday afternoon to move on in the winner's bracket at the Triple Crown U.S. Club Nationals.
Down 1-2 in the count, Garner battled back to fill the count for a payoff pitch. "With it 3-2, I was looking for a fastball to hit. He threw it down, so I swung and hit it," Garner said. "It hit really good."
The Tigers trailed 12-0 after the top of the third, but momentum started to swing the other way in the bottom of the inning. With one out and two men on, Drew Burress connected on a three-run blast to left to get Five-Star on the board. "We were down by a lot," Burress said. "I just knew somebody was going to have to do something if we were going to come back and have any chance of winning. I went up there, just trying to keep it down the middle, and it went out."
"That helped to keep the motivation very high to keep playing," Garner added.
The inning wasn't over, though, as four more runs crossed the plate to trim the lead to 12-7. Robert Lane and Brooks Bannon each had two-RBI hits to slice the lead down to five.
"That inning was huge," Garner said. "That really gave us some motivation to finish this game out."
In the fourth, Burress broke out the magic stick again as his second home run to left of the game was a two-run blast to make it 12-9. "[The pitch] was low, and I hit it right in the sweet spot of my bat," Burress said. "I knew right when I hit it, we were going to have a chance to come back. I've probably hit a couple of balls farther, but I've never hit a more important one."
The Dirtbags weren't done scoring yet, as Walker Jenkins cranked a solo home run in the fifth to push the lead back to four 13-9. Five-Star scored a pair in the bottom of the inning, and it looked for a moment that Burress might have given his side the lead with another homer, but his swing turned into a lazy fly to left to end the inning.
The Dirtbags left an insurance run on in the top of the sixth that it would prove to seriously need. The visiting team on the scoreboard nearly got out of the inning after a leadoff walk was followed by two quick outs; however, a single to left would set the stage for the heroics of Garner.
The Dirtbags raced out to an early lead as Shelton Bocook cleared the bases with a grand slam in the first inning. An inning later, Shawn Kitchens ripped a two-run blast to start the scoring in what would prove to be a six-run second. Tyler Parks, Colton Wombles, Ethan Gibson, and Connor Chapman each drove in runs in the frame. Two walks, a balk, and a sacrifice fly helped the Dirtbags score a pair in the third to build what seemed to be an insurmountable lead. Just four innings later, the tide had turned.
While the Dirtbags had to turn around and play again immediately, the Five-Star Tigers now moves on to the winner's bracket final against the Dallas Tigers later this afternoon.
"We've got plenty of pitching left," Burress said of Five-Star's chances. "We've just got to keep the bats going.
by Kyle Koso
You can learn quite a bit about yourself in terms of baseball, trying to fight back through the bottom end of a double-elim bracket.
With a win-or-go-home verdict looming over their heads Friday, the Colorado Slammers-Asnicar 14u team didn't execute everything they wanted, but the good news was good enough as they posted a 9-7 victory over Lonestar Elite to stay alive in the chase for the U. S. Club Nationals title at East Cobb Park. The Slammers will keep on pushing through the loser's bracket at 9 a.m. Saturday and will have to win again at 11:20 to reach the final -- all daunting but within reason for a team that can swing the bat as well as trot out strong starting pitching.
Friday, the biggest moment came in the top of the fifth, right after Lonestar scored three runs in the bottom of the fourth to tie the game at 3-all. Run-scoring hits from Camden Ross and Derrick Geist were timely, and baserunners were aggressive on two Lonestar errors.
"That inning boosted our confidence; they tied it, so we needed to bounce back. Everybody was doing their job," said Ross, who had two hits and two RBI, including a nice long sacrifice fly in the first as the Slammers took a 2-0 lead. "Just trying to get the first runs on the board with the sac fly, and the next one, I said let's get them in with a hit. We left a runner or two stranded, and you don't want to do that, but that's the game. You're not going to be perfect."
In the sixth, the Slammers did leave a runner on third with no outs, but they had put across two runs before that on a triple from Ben Greenberg. A couple of fielding miscues behind Slammers reliever Ezekiel Dokes made him work a bit harder, as well, but he was nail-tough in the bottom of the seventh to secure the win.
"At this age, you've got to focus more on the good than the bad. We have things to improve on, but they battled through against a good team. They found a way through it," said Slammers head coach Bryant Asnicar. "We had a bunt there in the fifth, a bang-bang play that jumpstarted us. It's crazy how a bunt will jumpstart an inning. Obviously, coming back through the loser's bracket is huge for them; they want to push, and it's a journey for them.
Aiden Billingsley did stellar work at the leadoff spot, reaching base four times, scoring three runs and earning the team's MVP of the game honor.
"We worked hard, and I liked how we picked each other up in the dugout. We didn't get down on each other, even though it might have been hard to with some errors in the first two innings," Billingsley said. "I feel really good right now, and I feel I played my kind of baseball. It's just a matter of bresthing and slowing the game down (when under pressure) and thinking through my plays. We all do that in the outfield."
For Lonestar, Zack Zavala hit a monster two-run homer off the scoreboard in left field in the sixth inning; Cade Urbanski also drove in two runs with a double and a single.