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.”