by Thomas Hoffman
Making its first appearance in the Triple Crown US Club Nationals, Lonestar Elite 14u expected to see good baseball from great teams. What the Texas natives may not have expected was a sharp, 5-0, opening win over Slammers Select to kick the elite championship off on the right foot.
“This is a special group of guys that I’ve coached for a long time,” said head coach Jacob Madrid. “Our season didn’t start until February, but these guys were out practicing in January. The extra time together has led them to understand their respective roles and play them well.”
Daniel Rodriguez’s role on Tuesday morning in East Cobb, GA was that of the starting pitcher, one Rodriguez has happy to fill. The Young right-hander was confident from the get go, setting down the first nine batters he faced.
“I had a great warmup with Zach (Zavala),” Rodriguez said. “Once I got into a rhythm, I really started to feel good out there.”
Rodriguez’s rhythm was hard to dismiss. Proponents of regulation to make baseball a faster game would have no qualms with Lonestar’s ace. NASCAR pit stops have taken more time than Rodriguez did between pitches. Through three innings, he had compiled six strikeouts and given up just one.
In the top of the third inning, Rodriguez had a chance to help himself out with his catcher Zach Zavala standing on third base with just one out. Rodriguez lifted a fly ball to the opposite field in right, allowing Zavala to creep home to give Lonestar the lead, 1-0.
Lonestar looked for a little insurance in very next inning. Ethan Garcia delivered a double, giving Tyler Hubbard the chance to knock him in with an RBI single, which he did in the very next at-bat. Hubbard wouldn’t waste any time on the bases himself, coming around for Lonestar’s third run of the contest on a throwing error from Slammers Select.
“We did a bunch of the little things well today,” said Madrid. “When we put pressure on teams like we did today, I’m feel like the momentum is eventually going to swing our way.”
As the second half of the ballgame approached, Rodriguez relied less on his fastball and more on his defense. Recording just one strikeout between the fourth and sixth innings, the Lonestar fielders tallied the eight putouts, half of which coming from shortstop Nico Ruedas.
“We all made these plays a thousand times in practice,” Ruedas explained. “Coach Madrid does a great job making us do drills to simulate live game action. I’m at the facility practicing those plays every chance I get so when I get in a game it’s second nature.”
“It’s amazing to pitch in front of these guys,” said Rodriguez. “I know every time a ball is put on the ground, they are probably going to make a play.”
Lonestar loaded the bases in the top of the seventh inning. After two consecutive fielder’s choices, Cade Urbanski ultimately rocketed a double to left field, giving his team a little extra breathing room, 5-0.
Six full innings of shutout baseball let Madrid turn the keys over to Luke Jackson in the final frame. Jackson gave up a hit to the first hitter he saw but retaliated with a strikeout and back-to-back grounders to himself to close out Lonestar’s first win at US Club Nationals.
“We just have to keep our minds focused on the game ahead,” said Ruedas. “We grabbed a little confidence with this win and now we need to keep it going.”
Madrid and his squad will face the Georgia Bombers in the second of three pool play games before the 14u Championship bracket begins.
“I can always tell how these boys are going to play by how loose they are,” said Madrid. “When baseball is fun, it’s easy to be confident about what you’re going to put on the field.”