Not much separated Millard United Elite and Armour Baseball throughout the 14u TCSB Invite-Only Division. Both teams emerged from pool play with 2-1 records, and Armour Baseball’s only loss before the best-of-3 Championship Series came at the hands of Millard Elite.
Sunday afternoon at Council Bluffs, two games were not enough to separate the two clubs after Millard took Game 1, 6-3, and Armour took Game 2, 9-4. When Millard tied the game at three-all in the third inning of the final contest, Mother Nature stepped in, and with rain and lightning surrounding the complex, the two were declared co-champions when the game was stopped.
“It feels good to be rewarded like this,” said Millard’s Andrew Reiss, who came up with three RBI in the Championship Series and pitched in the final game. “This team fights for everything. No matter if we are ahead or if we’re down, we always go out there and compete. This feels like a great reward for all that effort.”
After Millard’s Game 1 victory, Armour needed a spark to regain a little momentum in Game 2. That spark came at the hands of lead-off hitter Trevor Moore, whose walk to start the game began what would become a five-run first inning.
“We knew that we were going to face great competition all week long,” said Moore. “I think we all brought an extra ounce of focus to the field and it paid off this week.”
Down early, 5-0, Millard began the tough task of climbing back into the ballgame. Ben Weindel kicked things off with a double in the bottom of the first and would come around to score off an RBI from Cole Goeser.
Armour and Millard traded blows in the fourth inning as both Jacob Burney and Cole Goeser began to find their grooves on the mound for their respective sides.
It wasn’t until the fifth inning when some offense resurfaced, as Cody Treblehorn scored on an Ethan Lewis single that ignited another big frame for Armour as three runs crossed the plate.
In the sixth and seventh innings, Eric Shields came to the mound and shut down Millard, finding three big strikeouts to secure the victory, 9-4.
“We knew we were playing well,” said Armour head coach Tyler Wood. “We just wanted to keep the momentum, stick to the plan and going after that second game.”
Designated as the visiting team for the second straight time, Armour was quick to jump back into the scoring column, receiving help once again from Moore. Though Armour was looking for the same big inning they had in Game 2, in the final verse of the three-game series, Millard kept Armour at bay as Andrew Reiss closed out the frame with a strikeout to avoid further damage.
“Even though we had just lost against them, I felt like we still had a chance,” said Reiss. “In that first inning, I wanted to get our offense to the plate as quick as I could to get us back in the game.”
Fresh off closing out Game 2, Eric Shields rode his momentum into the finale, shutting down Millard despite facing three baserunners in scoring position in two innings. Shields delivered four strikeouts, hit three batters and walked one, but most importantly, kept a clean sheet.
“Everyone really stepped up,” said Moore. “You have to credit everyone on this team and the coaching staff. We wouldn’t have had the same performance if we didn’t get a little something out of everyone.”
As the rain began in to fall in the bottom of the third inning, Millard Elite’s offense began to rise. Reiss kicked things off with a single and then Kyan Lodice’s two-RBI double brought Millard within one, 3-2. A batter and a passed ball later, Lodice crossed home and evened the score after three full innings.
Continued rain brought the game to a screeching halt. While fans, players and coaches on either side would have certainly preferred to duke it out until an official winner had presented itself, based on player safety it was decided the two well-deserving teams would be co-champions.
“We’re the first official Nebraska-based team to win this,” said coach Sanders. “It means a lot to these boys to defend their home turf and go out as champions.”
While Millard now sets a precedent for Cornhusker teams in the TCSB Invite-Only Division. Armour Baseball matched the effort of fellow Coloradans 3n2 Warriors, who captured the 13u title.
“It was a very long week but we couldn’t be more proud to ride home as champions,” said Wood. “It was an incredibly run tournament and was a fantastic experience for the boys to play such great competition from around the country.
“It’s a great reward for the team’s hard work and a nice Father’s Day gift as well.”
In most situations for 13u baseball, a nine-inning victory that took three hours to complete is more than enough labor to earn the rest of the day off.
However, at the TCSB Invite-Only event in Omaha on Sunday, securing the win was going to require quite a bit more time away from anyone's recliner and TV remote.
The 3n2 Warriors (CO), who have played and excelled in title-winning moments for many years in multiple time zones, recharged and won twice on the day, earning the 13u championship over Total Baseball Vipers (CA) with a determined 10-5 victory in Game 2 of the best-of-3 series. That Game 1 extra-innings marathon, which ended with the Warriors winning 9-8, certainly gave the Warriors a mental edge -- but even then, it took a bit to get focused on the task in Game 2.
The Vipers jumped ahead 1-0, with an infield error allowing the run to cross. In the bottom of the second, Lathan Van Ausdall led off for 3n2 and had a near 10-pitch at-bat, calmly looking for his chance before lashing a double. Having enjoyed a good long look at the Vipers pitcher, Brayden Duman then jumped on the first offering and launched a two-run homer to right field, pushing the Warriors ahead and taking off a bit of pressure.
J.T. Shank and Chase Jaworsky each drove in a run in the inning, and the Warriors stayed in control the rest of the way.
"All I was trying to do was build momentum for us. I was hoping to get a run across, get the energy up," said Van Ausdall, who had three hits and scored twice in Game 2, after scoring the winning run in Game 1 on a hit from J.J. Gines. "We were a little wobbly in the beginning (of Game 2), but once our game started to come around, things began to go our way. It was a fun tournament, awesome for us, getting to play good teams."
"It felt good there with the home run, something to help the team and get our focus back after that long game, where we went back and forth, back and forth," said Duman, who drove in three runs and pitched the last two innings in relief and got in a little hot water before getting the final out on a pop fly to shortstop Jaworsky. "We started off a little slow in the tournament, and we used that as motivation and took that into bracket play.
"I just thought to myself, I was just one pitch away, just one pitch (in the seventh)."
In the fourth inning, the Warriors pushed their lead from 6-2 to 10-2, with the highlight moment arguably coming when Julian Terrazas scored from second on an infield single.
The Vipers got a little closer on a two-run homer from David Lozano in the fifth. But four quality innings from starter Brex Caldwell went a long way to boosting 3n2's chances.
"We talked about jumping on them early and trying to get a lead. Lathan put together such a professional at-bat ... Brayden knew to look middle-in, and if he throws it, hit it off the light pole. After that, this whole dugout took a deep breath, and we went back to just playing baseball," said Warriors coach Ryan Duman. "We knew whoever won Game 1 would have a huge advantage, and that's what this team does. We fight. We felt comfortable with the lead.
"Brex is new with us this year, and he draws big games. Pitches on Sundays, a little on Saturdays ... he told us he had five good innings for us. He got extended a bit so we had to keep it at four, and we had pitching ready if we had to go to Game 3.
The best of the best stormed the field on Championship Sunday at the TC SlumpBuster in Omaha, and it was exciting to say the least.
In the 12u division of the TCSB Invite, the StL Force faced the Millard United Elite in a best-of-3 championship series. Force won the first game in smooth fashion, 10-2, and were feeling confident heading into Game 2. However, after losing to Millard once in pool play a few days prior, Force knew they couldn’t take it easy against them. Ultimately, Force won a close 4-2 battle in Game 2 to be crowned champions.
“They’re a great team. We knew coming into this tournament that any team could win at any time. It’s never fun to lose but sometimes it’s worth it, it makes the boys turn it on and not take it for granted,” said Force head coach Sal McGhee. “In pool play we get to play a lot of other players in different positions and one thing we focus on is developmental strategies, and then we go hard once bracket play starts.”
Force went to work quickly with the sticks in the first inning. They got runners on board and used their speed to get into scoring position. Then, Brysen Nepute pushed a run across with his RBI single to put his team on the board, 1-0. The score stayed that way for the next few innings.
In the fourth, Nepute stepped up once again with a leadoff double and stole third base on the next pitch. The Force roster followed that up with a walk and four clutch consecutive singles that put them ahead 4-0. Cooper Thompson, Mike Teason and Caleb Heck each recorded an RBI in the inning.
Millard answered in the bottom half of the inning by stringing together a few hits, but Force’s exceptional defense only allowed one run to cross the plate.
Catcher Mike Teason had the golden arm; he caught multiple Millard runners trying to steal. In addition, outfielders Nepute and Tommy Gibbar each made outstanding catches that kept Millard off the scoreboard.
“We’re aggressive. I tell the boys every time we hit the field that we’re there to get better. I want to see these guys down in Omaha one day on TV,” said McGhee.
Heading into the final frame, Force had a commanding 4-1 lead but Millard didn’t go down without a fight. They managed to load the bases and score a run before Force called in their lefty ace, Nepute, to close it out.
Nepute was a triple threat; he held the fort down in centerfield before coming in for the save in which he struck out two batters to seal the championship. He was also 2-3 at the dish with an RBI.
“I knew I could do it because I did it yesterday. My teammates told me I could do it too, when I came to the mound that last inning. It feels great!” said Nepute.
The Force went 6-2 overall on the weekend with their only losses coming in pool play. Collectively, they had 10 hits in the final game, and Heck created the most havoc on the base paths with three steals. Heck also delivered two hits and a RBI.
“It felt good to win. I just like to be with my friends and have fun,” said Heck.
The entire Force squad was all smiles getting ready to make the trek back home to St. Louis with memories from the CWS and a SlumpBuster championship trophy in hand.
“It was a great tournament. We look forward to it all year long. Omaha was good to us!” said McGhee.
The Utah Yard Dawgs went “yard” several times throughout Saturday’s bracket play games at the Omaha SlumpBuster, and their two run-rule victories sent them to the semifinal round of the 13u D1 championships on Sunday.
After handling their first game of the day, 16-1, the Dawgs showed up to Game 2 against the Desert Bandits with the same aggressive approach at the plate. The offense was on fire from the get-go; their 11 hits, five of those going for extra bases, ultimately led them to a 9-1 win.
“We just tell the boys they need to stay engaged, they gotta keep each other up, and they gotta work really hard. It’s just up to them really, we can’t say much as a coaching staff, just let them handle it,” said head coach Josh Atkinson.
The home team Dawgs took a 3-0 lead right off the bat in the bottom of the first inning. After getting a baserunner to reach via error, Kaden Miller moved him over with his single through the 5-6 hole. Then Cade Nalder stepped to the plate and drove a ball to right field, almost clearing the fence.
“We just stay in the game and watch the pitcher to see what he’s throwing,” said Nalder.
The second inning looked similar to the first as the Bandits committed an error that allowed the Dawgs to put a runner on base for cleanup hitter Billy Bird. He quickly took advantage of the situation and sent the ball out of the park for a two-run homer.
“It felt good! Mainly because I wasn’t hitting very good and then I just hit it hard,” said Bird.
The Dawgs strung together four more hits in the bottom of two to put them up 8-0 and Miller’s no doubter solo home run in the bottom of the fourth sealed the run rule for his team.
The Bandits managed to scrape in a run in the third, but the Dawgs solid pitching and defense kept them off the bases for most of the game. Pitcher Taylor Engh was efficient on the mound; he threw 94 pitches in five full innings with eight K’s.
Miller, Nalder and Evan Atkinson each had two hits in the outing. Nalder was 2-2 with a double and a triple; he also earned a team-high 4 RBI.
“Today gives a lot of confidence for tomorrow; all we know is it’s Billy Bird time!” said Nalder, hyping up his teammate who hit the monster home run in the second inning.
The Yard Dawgs have to win two games on Sunday to take home the SlumpBuster hardware.
“We’re pretty set. I got my big guns both ready to pitch both games tomorrow so that’s what our plan is,” said Atkinson.
When Anthony Aldridge came in to close out the final three innings of Saturday's game for the St. Louis Gamers, he had a double-edged game plan.
Aldridge understood the strike zone was trending in the low side; that was no big deal, just part of the reality of their Omaha SlumpBuster 13u D1 contest against the Texas Marshals in La Vista. So as he worked in that direction, he also noticed that the Marshals were tempted to swing at pitches up in the zone as well.
Able to control his pitches, and his nerves, Aldridge struck out seven batters in those last three frames, helping the Gamers post a 3-2 victory that advances them to Sunday's semifinals against the Utah Yard Dawgs. Max Eastman hit a solo home run for the Gamers, and Andrew Willis drove home two runs with a two-out single in the fourth that pushed the Gamers ahead for good.
"I was preparing myself - those guys are good hitters, and I was preparing to throw low. Just trying to keep them from hitting the ball," said Aldridge, who notched two strikeouts in a row to end the game and moved the ball around with precision. "I throw as hard as I can, and if I miss, I miss. It wasn't easy.
"We've really been hitting - we're never like this. We either hit the ball and don't field, or field it well and can't hit. We got everything together this weekend and want to go deep in the tournament."
The Marshals got two runs from leadoff hitter Mark Spangler; he came across in the third on an error. In the fourth, the Gamers had runners on first and second, but two strikeouts threatened to douse the rally. After a walk loaded the bases, Willis fought through a tough at-bat and dumped a single near the right field line.
"I like to try and picture myself doing it; that gives me confidence. And I try not to think about all the things I need to do in my swing too much, because that gets in my head," Willis said. "You have to have fun and relax. If you get too tense, you start to make errors. Play through it and pick yourself up if you do make an error. Our pitchers did great; they threw strikes and threw hard, and did what they needed to do."
Gamers starter Trenton Cookerly pitched extremely well, stranding a runner on third in his final inning of work. The St. Louis offense left many runners on base, struck out 11 times and ran themselves into a double play in the fifth on a bunt play, but it never seemed to create any friction or irritation.
"You play enough, you go through so much adversity that you get used to it. If he puts the bunt down, we're in great shape there ... they've been in tough spots before and it's not the end of the world if it messes up," said Gamers coach Dan Bishop. "Good games don't come without several that didn't go that way. They've gone through the struggles, and we've had to rebuild them so they understand how to not make one error turn into two. I'm proud of all of them - we develop 14 kids, they've all played about the same amount of time, and I've got four good pitchers to go."