by Jason Hanes
MARIETTA, Ga. -- A wild winner’s bracket contest in the 13u/14u division of the Triple Crown US Club Nationals went to extra innings before Lonestar Elite pulled out a 9-8 win over 6-4-3 DP in eight innings Friday night.
Lonestar Elite led 8-1 going to the top of the seventh, but 6-4-3 DP would take advantage of errors to score seven runs and send the game into extra innings. From there, the game became a tale of two pickoff plays; one would work, the other would not.
In the top of the eighth with the International Tiebreaker Rule in effect, 6-4-3 had a runner on second with no one out. Mason Ramm, on in relief on the mound, would notice the runner trying to get a big lead off the bag.
“Coach tells us don’t let the runners keep moving their feet at second base,” Ramm said. “He kept creeping, and kept creeping. I tried a back pick. I didn’t think he was going to run, but he did. (Ty Maldanado) made a nice effort to tag him, and he got him.”
Ramm would strike the next two batters out to end the frame and put Lonestar Elite in the driver’s seat going to the bottom half.
In the home half of the inning, Joe Betz started the inning on second base. 6-4-3 DP had devised a great play to get the runner out, but a mistake ended up costing the side. The 6-4-3 DP pitcher faked a throw to second, and the shortstop and second baseman both dove, acting like the ball went into center field. Betz started to run to third, but the pitcher still had the ball. As he went to make the tag, however, the ball popped out of his glove, allowing Betz to take third.
The next batters would be intentionally walked, loading the bases with no one out. Hank Benny would lift a fly ball to right. The strong throw to the plate stopped Betz in his tracks; however, the ball would one-hop the catcher and get to the backstop. Betz came home to score, giving his team the wild win.
“This is a great group of guys,” said Lonestar Elite head coach Eddie Villarreal. “One of the biggest parts of our tournament was the rain delay. We were able to stay in the dugout, have a lot of fun together, play some games, and do some bonding. This is a team that we’ve pieced together from (different parts of Texas) in the Lonestar organization.”
Both teams got on the board in the opening inning. Andrew Avitabile singled through the right side with runners on the corners and two out to give 6-4-3 DP the lead. In the home half of the inning, Ramm singled, stole second, then came home when Ayden Dennis singled off the pitcher’s thigh and the lunging throw from the hurler went into shallow right.
Ramm continued is solid day at the plate when he came through with a one-out RBI single to give his side a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the second. With two out in the inning, a double by DJ Pinkerton scored two to make it 4-1.
Lonestar Elite would stretch out the lead to seven in the bottom of the fifth, scoring four times to seemingly put the game out of reach. With the bases loaded and one out, a wild pitch allowed Betz to score to make it 5-1. A two-run single from Benny made it 7-1, with an error by 6-4-3 DP bringing home the final run of the inning one batter later.
It looked like that would be enough for Lonestar Elite, but 6-4-3 DP came up with seven big runs to tie the game. After the first four runs of the inning had scored, 6-4-3 DP was down to its final out. Kameron Douglas could have let the game end with his grounder to second, but bhe hustled out of the box to beat the throw to first to extend the game. Douglas then stole second, and when the throw went into center field, Carson Felton scored from third to make it 8-6.
Carson Kerce would reach thanks to an error at first, and after he stole second, the tying runs were in scoring position. A wild pitch scored Douglas to make it 8-7, then Zeke Kimbrell singled to bring home the game-tying run, sending the game to extras.
With only 12 players on the roster, Lonestar Elite was desperate for a win to avoid the loser’s bracket. “We only have 12 guys,” Ramm said. “You see some teams out here with 15 or 20 guys. We’re short on arms, but we’ve just got to keep scoring a lot of runs to keep the pitching down.”
“We’ve got some guys left that we still have some innings in,” said coach Villarreal. “They’ve got some good arms, so it’s huge to be able to get off the field and be able to come back tomorrow with our big guys and not have to try to piece together a game down the stretch.”