Prior to the Dallas Raiders loser’s bracket matchup in the 12u TCSB Invite Only Division against Top Tier (Illinois), the Raiders had lost three consecutive one-run contests. Their fourth iteration of down-to-the-wire finishes proved to be the charm Friday as Dallas survived against Top Tier, 5-4.
“We were really able to shut them down with strikeouts,” said head coach Trent Kelley. “In those other games, we let balls get in play which led to errors or more hits. Today, we were able to close them down and keep this thing going.”
Dallas didn’t waste any time drawing first blood. Catcher and clean-up hitter A.J. DeBaolo notched an RBI single to give the Raiders the lead.
In the home half of the first inning, Weston Ballard let Top Tier know he meant business, striking out the first two batters he saw. A pair of walks earned Top Tier runners in scoring position but a big strikeout looking ended the frame, leaving the Raiders unharmed. Ballard would finish with three strong scoreless innings of work and eight strikeouts.
After a quiet second inning, Dallas’ offense re-emerged in the third for four more runs, including a two-RBI single from the Raiders catcher.
“I was seeing a lot of meatballs up there today,” said DeBaolo. “I only had two at-bats and I wanted to make sure I didn’t waste them.”
Top Tier wasn’t about to go down without a fight, and given Dallas’ record in close games, no one could blame them. The Illinois natives fought back with stout defense and two runs in the fourth inning thanks to a two-RBI single from Sam Bruington to pull within three, 5-2.
Meanwhile, Dallas cycled through pitchers before landing on Luke Bajaj who Kelley tasked with closing out the game.
“I wasn’t really feeling nervous out there,” said Bajaj. “I knew I had good teammates behind me that could make plays and an excellent catcher that would guide me through it all.”
Two more runs off an Anthony Holloway single in the final inning let Top Tier creep within the haunting one-run mark. Kelley, trusting in his young pitcher-catcher duo, left Bajaj on the hill with the tying run just 60 feet away at third and the winning tally in scoring position at second. Bajaj came through brilliantly, striking out the final batter and keeping the championship hopes alive for the Raiders.
“I knew he was going to strike him out,” said DeBaolo, who navigated four different pitchers through the contest. “I trust (Luke) to throw strikes and I had a feeling he was going to come through.”
Dallas begins its long march to the championship game in the 12u Invite-Only Division on Saturday morning with a matchup against Colorado Elite at 8 a.m. The Raiders will need to win three contests Saturday and two more Sunday to claim the 2018 crown.
“It’s just a matter keeping focused and having fun,” said Bajaj. “We get to play on new and different fields and face new and different competition. It’s all fun.”
“At the end of the day, we’re still playing ball,” said Kelley. “My motivational speech is pretty easy tomorrow. Do you want to win or do you want to go home?”