by Kyle Koso
Chris Rodriguez may have given up about 1000 feet worth of hits late Thursday, but he certainly earned his mile-wide smile at the finish.
The pitcher for the 13u Lonestar Elite-Dunn squad threw a stellar game to kick off bracket play at the U.S. Club Nationals, going all five innings in humid conditions as the eighth-seeded Elite toppled No. 1 seed 6-4-3 DP at East Cobb Park, 14-6. The final frame was no cakewalk for Rodriguez as he gave up two long home runs (and another shot halfway up the leftfield wall), but by then the Lonestar offense had provided a substantial cushion.
Rodriguez bent in a curveball to get a strikeout in the bottom of the fifth to end the game.
"We learned from the mistakes of the previous games, and we used that as motivation to come back. We knew we needed to win this first game in bracket play, and we crushed the No. 1 seed and set the tone to let all the other teams know we are here," said Rodriguez, who had muzzled 6-4-3 to just two runs before tiring late. "They caught up to my fastballs there late, so I knew I had to do something different. I gave them some offspeeds here and there and hoped they wouldn't hit another bomb."
Lonestar may have been the eighth seed coming in, but they had scored 30 runs in pool play and certainly didn't flinch at their challenge. The key frame was the third inning as Lonestar sent 13 batters up and poured across eight runs. Hank Benny came through with a two-out three-run double to break the game open.
"I was just trying to hit the line drive, especially after talking to my coach and him telling me to keep it down instead of elevating, and it worked out," Benny said. "We were pretty high with confidence, especially after winning our (previous) game, and we felt like we were going to win this game. Chris did a good job leading the team, getting us through the game."
Lonestar wrapped up its offensive highlights in the top of the fifth, with Brady Wilson hitting a triple and Ethan Lancaster bringing him in with a single. Travis Starkey added a double to score Mason Wagstaff, and Jackson Baker had his second RBI of the day with a single to score Starkey. Adrian Ramirez added three hits and two RBI.
"We lost our first pool game, made a mess of it with errors, and it got away from us. We are a real confident team that has played 14 Majors all year, so we're not going to be intimidated," said Lonestar head coach Robert Dunn. "There are good teams here; if we play well, we can play with anybody. We were having good at-bats, good approaches ... when we try to do too much, that's when we get in trouble.
"Chris gave us the game we needed. He kept it in the zone, limited the walks ... the pitch count got a little high in the end, but he got us a lot of ground balls. They all have to play together, because no one person is going to carry it."
Lonestar Elite will play at 11:20 a.m. on Friday at Aviation Park to continue in the winner's bracket; 6-4-3 DP begins its potentially long journey in the loser's bracket at 9 a.m.