EMERSON, Ga. – Friday morning’s WWBA 14u National Championship game kept everyone on the edge of their seats, with a back and forth battle capped by a heart-stopping almost-comeback.
The 6-4-3 DP Tigers 14u and the Upstate Mavericks was the matchup played on Field 16 at Perfect Game Park South at LakePoint. The two were very familiar with one another, having met in the 14u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational championship game the second week of June. The first time they met, the 6-4-3 DP Tigers 14u got the best of the Mavericks, winning 10-0 in a lopsided title game. This matchup had a very different ending.
The Tigers struck first in the top of the second inning when Benjamin Markiewicz connected for a two-RBI single to left field. That would be the last time the Tigers would lead all game.
The Mavericks opened the game up in the bottom of the third inning with a seven-run frame thanks to a couple of walks, some fielding miscues, and five base hits, including doubles from Hagan Alberson and Austin Daniel.
The Tigers never called it quits, though, and turned what appeared to be heading towards a blowout into a nail-biting game that came down to the final out. Both teams exchanged runs in the fourth to make it an 8-3 ballgame before 6-4-3 put together an aggressive offensive inning in the top of the sixth.
Nolan Tressler started the rally with a leadoff double to right field, which was followed by an RBI single off the bat of Griffin Zito. Michael Guldberg stayed hot at the plate with a triple to center field before coming around to score thanks to an RBI single by Caleb Bartolero. Bannon Bembenek capped off the big inning with a two-out RBI single, making it an 8-7 ballgame.
Everyone could start to feel the momentum take a dramatic turn back towards the Tigers dugout, which was full of enthusiasm and confidence after a 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the sixth. You could sense the nerves starting to set in for the Mavericks, who once held a five run lead.
A leadoff walk to start the seventh set off a lot of cheering from the 6-4-3 dugout, which, just five weeks ago, beat this Mavericks team badly. Finally, it came down to runners on first and third with two outs. The Tigers needed to score the runner on third to continue the ballgame. If they were somehow able to score the runner on first they would take the lead back for the first time since the early stages of the ballgame.
Guldberg connected on a 3-1 fastball to send the ball towards right-center field. Off the bat, you could sense the tension from the stands and from both dugouts, but the ball hung in the air just long enough for the Mavericks right fielder to track it down on the run and give them the 2014 WWBA 14u National Championship title.
“It felt good,” said Upstate Mavericks head coach Tommy Bledsoe. “We came down last month and played 6-4-3 in the finals and came in second. It just felt good to come back down and redeem ourselves and play a good ballgame.”
“It feels great. It was a hard-fought game for both teams and luckily we came out on top,” said tournament Most Valuable Player Jamison Patterson of the Upstate Mavericks. “They started to have a little rally at the end, but luckily our pitcher buckled down and threw strikes and did well.”
Patterson finished off an outstanding tournament at the plate with a 2-for-3 performance, which including a double, two RBI, and a run scored. He went 14-for-32 (.438 average) with five extra-base hits, a team-leading 15 RBI, seven runs scored, and an outstanding .500 on-base percentage.
The left-handed hitting primary first baseman took home MVP honors the last time he and his team were in Georgia, which was at the 14u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational. He went 10-for-21 (.476 average) with six doubles, 11 RBI, six runs scored, and a .560 on-base percentage at that tournament.
“He loves coming down here,” Bledsoe said. “He plays his best baseball down here and really hits. Most of the boys perform really well on the big stage. We’ve always played really well away from South Carolina and play up to the competition and it makes it worthwhile.”
It seemed anything the pitchers threw at Patterson he would send right back to where it came from. He was clutch for his ball club all tournament and it showed this morning when it mattered most.
“I was trying to go backside and if they were gonna throw it inside I was gonna pull it,” said Patterson. “That worked really well and then you just adjust to offspeed.”
The southpaw performed well on the mound, as well. He tossed 10 innings and gave up just two earned runs off of three hits and five walks, while collecting nine strikeouts and earning two wins.
“I just stayed consistent with my mechanics and just threw strikes and let the defense do its work,” Patterson said.
It was another southpaw, however, who took home the Most Valuable Pitcher hardware. The 6-4-3 DP Tigers 14u’s Robert Bennett impressed most from the mound to earn the honors.
The lefty threw 13.2 innings between his two starts, earning two wins while giving up just one earned run and striking out nine, giving him an impressive 0.51 earned run average (ERA)
He tossed a complete seven-inning game last Friday against the Taconic Rangers, giving up his lone earned run off of five hits while collecting six strikeouts. He was one out away from tossing another complete game with an outstanding performance against the San Diego Show in Thursday’s playoff action.
“Everything was working,” said Bennett. “I felt like I had a good fastball which I could locate well and the cutters, curveballs, and changeups definitely helped me out. I’ve been working on my changeup a lot and it just felt really good in my hand this tournament. I like to throw it a lot and throw it down in the zone.”
Despite his team suffering a loss in the championship game, the comeback effort was surely encouraging for Bennett and his teammates heading into their upcoming tournament in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
“It was an unbelievable experience – yesterday fighting back in two tough games and just coming out here and fighting back from being down by five and almost having a shot to win it was just really amazing and I love my team so much,” Bennett said. “That’ll probably give us a little more confidence going into that to just play all out and try to take it home.”
Both teams played in semifinal thrillers Thursday afternoon to advance to the championship, really testing the grit of the Mavericks and the Tigers.
The Tigers took down the top-seeded Dulin Dodgers in the semifinal matchup yesterday, 5-4, scoring the winning in the top of the eighth inning after Dulin tied thing up at four late in the bottom of the sixth.
Upstate played a 10-inning thriller with the two-seed Home Plate Dyal in their semifinal matchup, which was the first 10-inning game LakePoint has seen. After trading five run frames in the fifth inning, scoring came to a halt for a long time. Home Plate had an ideal opportunity to win the ballgame when they had the bases loaded and no outs in the eighth inning but were unable to score. Upstate capitalized on a few opportunities and put up three runs in the top of the tenth to eventually win, 9-7.
“It was nerve-wrecking,” said Bledsoe. “It was up and down, back and forth. Both teams had opportunities to win it and we just made the plays and got some hits at the end to pull out a win against a really tough team.”
Patterson, the tournament MVP, gave a lot of credit to his teammates, who, as a team, outscored its opponents 77-28 and hit .333 (89-for-267) as a team.
“Off the field, have fun with your team, but when you’re in between the white lines you’ve gotta do your job,” said Patterson.
“When you win a tournament like this, you’re gonna get recognized from all over the place,” Bledsoe said. “We’ve got a really good group of kids. They all get along. It was probably the most enjoyable team I’ve ever coached because they all got along, everybody pulled for each other, and it’s been really good.”
2014 14u WWBA National Championship runner-up: 6-4-3 DP Tigers 14u
2014 14u WWBA National Championship MVP: Jamison Patterson, Upstate Mavericks
2014 14u WWBA National Championship MV-Pitcher: Robert Bennett, 6-4-3 DP Tigers 14u