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.