FORT MEYERS, Fla. -- The New Jersey Mariners knew time was running out. So like true champions, they made time stand still.
The Mariners rallied Sunday morning and posted a dramatic 8-7 victory over the Schaumburg Seminoles in the first round of the playoffs in the WWBA Underclass World Championship at Terry Park, earning a spot in the Round of 16 Sunday afternoon.
The Mariners trailed, 7-3, entering the bottom of the sixth inning, knowing there wouldn't be another frame if they didn't rally due to the two-hour limit on games. Sure enough, they scored four runs and forced the game into a tiebreaker.
Tiebreakers are tricky, because the umpires artificially load the bases with one out to start the inning. Schaumburg was unable to score in the top of the seventh against New Jersey's Jason Carmichael, setting the stage for the Mariners to win the game in the home half. They did not disappoint their fans or themselves.
Matt Tietz lofted a sacrifice fly to left field on the first pitch in the bottom of the seventh, scoring Jose Mathias with the winning run. Schaumburg was dejected after squandering a four-run cushion with three outs to go, but New Jersey was ecstatic.
"I think that's the most exciting game we've ever played in," said Mariners Coach Kevin Attilio. "We were down, came out flat, battled back.
"Great game. Great game," he said, happily repeating himself. "That's what this tournament is all about. They'll have these memories the rest of their life."
Tietz had never seen a tiebreaker like this before, where they start the inning with the bases loaded and one out. He liked being in that spot.
"The original plan was to suicide (squeeze)," he said, "but then he (Attilio) was like, 'All right, we're going to let you swing at the first pitch, early in the count.' But be looking for the suicide squeeze sign."
It never came to that. Tietz got a good look at the first pitch from Brett Barger and hit it deep enough to left.
"It was right down the middle," said Tietz.
New Jersey scrambled and used four pitchers in the ballgame. Attilio was hoping to save Carmichael and use him as a starting pitcher in a later round of the playoffs, but he couldn't wait any longer with the Mariners trailing 7-3 in the top of the sixth.
Carmichael came into the game and pitched a scoreless frame, keeping the score 7-3 and giving his club a chance with time about to run out. They wouldn't start a new inning once the two-hour limit had expired, so this was it. You could finish the inning, but that would be it. Unless you tied it.
Nick Bates had been pitching a strong game for Schaumburg, but he got tired in the bottom of the sixth in the high heat and humidity in Florida. The Mariners reached Bates for three doubles and a single in the bottom of the sixth, drawing within 7-5 and chasing Bates from the mound with one out and runners at second and third.
Barger relieved and threw a wild pitch, making it 7-6 and putting a runner at third. Then, with two outs, Jesse Baiza beat out an infield single to drive in Zach Gray with the tying run. Barger got the third out, forcing overtime.
Carmichael, a 6-foot-3 righthander from Cape Coral, Fla., used to live in New Jersey but moved to Florida when he was 12 years old. He's still friends with guys on the team and jumped at the chance to join them in the WWBA tournament here.
"He wanted to play with his old friends," said Attilio, thrilled to have Carmichael on the club.
Carmichael, who has been clocked at 88 mph, made some new friends on Sunday. He pitched for the Mariners in the opening round on Friday, then was ready to take the ball again on Sunday on short rest. He didn't know Attilio was hoping to save him for later in the tournament and didn't care.
"Whenever he called me in, that's when I was going to go in," he said. "I was ready for that."
He calmly worked out of the bases-loaded jam in the top of the seventh with poise and an 85 mph heater.
"Just go out there and throw strikes and just get out of it," he said simply, "so we can get our licks and get the win."
It was a good plan.
"He's a great player," said Attilio. "He's special."Zach Van Beek and Mike Herrmann hit home runs for Schaumburg.