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.”