Belmont Bandits 9U baseball team
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With so much drama in the GNC.....
May. 21, 2017
Gastonia, North Carolina that is. What a Sunday it was; drama from the first at bat in game one until the last out in game two. What a ride. Buckle up.
Game one was against the Fort Mill Gators. These guys came out swinging, with all their saved pitching ready for a knockout blow. They did really well, and kept in this game with scrappy play and resourcefulness. Again, plenty of talent from this group as was evident by some of their swings and plays in the field. They were the lower seed, and had to hit first in the game. So, in the top of the first they slapped two on the board and put the Bandits in a deficit early. We had several dramatic situations, highlighted by our initial turn at bat in the bottom of the first. We had a leadoff hitter hammer a double down the opposite line from the side he hits from, and the ball hit the base as it skidded down the line. The ball actually popped up 3-4 feet when it hit, and made a noticeable thud. The home plate umpire immediately called the ball "foul", which put our group behind the eight ball immediately. A couple more pretty awful calls gave our coaches reason to remind the boys in between innings one and two that the adversity we always talk about overcoming was omni-present and no excuse would be made or helpful to utter. We had to bear down, and prove ourselves to more than just the 9 in the field. Out of the 10,000 or so balls I've seen hit a base, that is the first time I've ever seen an Ump call one foul. For you newcomers to baseball who may be unfamiliar about the rules, all three bases are located in fair territory. So, if you attended the game today, you were one of the few people on earth who have seen that call made. You may sooner see the elusive bigfoot or maybe a unicorn roaming a pasture before you see that call made in a baseball game again. The Bandits settled in, behind the grand pitching of Patrick Blee and rode his arm to a solid win over the course of four innings. The Banditos broke this game wide open with a big third inning where they scored nine runs. That always helps out when you are trying to win a baseball game. Offensively, we got some things going and were lead by Landon King (2-2, 1B, 3B, BB, 2 runs), Dalton Skipper (2-2, 2 singles, 1 run) and Brody Crawford who had 2-3 (1B, 2B, 1 run scored). Walker Spargo also went 1-1. He also walked one time, but his single jump-started our big third inning, and gave our team momentum that carried on throughout the rest of the inning. He scored two runs on the day as well, and was a sparkplug on offense for us. We ended the game after four innings, with a 13-3 victory. This propelled us into the Gold Championship game which was played immediately after this game concluded.
Then we have the Roberson RAMblers. You will not find a better played game in North Carolina outside of High School than these two 9u teams showed us in game two. They have a great coaching staff and a talent bucket that is beyond full, but the skill they showed during the game was most impressive. They consistently robbed very hard hit balls in the infield and outfield, many times with diving plays or back handed stabs where they had no other choice but to perform the action shown. Our staff just kind of shook their collective heads at some of the plays they made; it is hard to believe they are 9u. This game was played a quick pace, because of how well both sides pitched and played defense. The Bandits looked like a miniature version of the 1960s Cincinnati Reds for this championship Sunday due to the uniforms won in a previous tournament this year. The boys looked sharp, and were out to win some more prizes.
We had Blake Hartness on the mound for the Bandits, and he pitched the best game any Bandit has pitched this year in this game...when it mattered the most. At the end of 5 complete innings, we held a 1-0 lead thanks to Walker Spargo's early double in the third inning, and ability to get around the bases and score without being hit in. But, in the bottom of the 6th inning (our last inning of regulation play), the talented and forthright RAMblers scraped out a run when it was needed most. Hartness was masterful in his game until this inning, until finally the Roberson bunch caught up to him with a couple of hits. With a leadoff double and triple by the Buncombe County Bombers, Blake was taken out in this inning. The triple knocked in the runner from second, so it was tied at 1-1....with a runner on third. In came Landon King. With no outs, a runner on third and IN THE BOTTOM of the 6th inning he unleashes a hard pitch that gets by the catcher and the runner from third is sent home by the coach. You have to make some unusual "baseball decisions" in youth travel baseball that you might not do in High School if you are coaching, and this was one of them. A close play at home was seen, and Landon covered the plate and snapped a tag on the runner to produce the first out of the inning. A momentary crisis averted, but this murderer's row of hitters still had two outs in their pocket, so the humid day became steamier for the Bandits as we knew we were not out of trouble just yet. The batter up to bat when the player on third was thrown out at the plate, walked. So, with one out, and one runner on the tension escalated once again as the winning run was back in play. To make matters worse, the batter up was the leadoff guy; typically those guys can hit and run pretty well....and he was no exception. With a two ball, one strike count the leadoff guy connects on a hard hit line shot that sent our left-handed centerfielder moving hard to his left (opposite glove hand side) to get close to making a play. Brody ends up snagging the baseball, and throwing it into Hartness at first base to get the double play, and the hell out of that inning. Momentum secured, motivation found and for the first time on Sunday I felt like this game was ours to secure.
Such highs and such lows. So, we have six innings complete in the books, and per Top Gun rules we begin the international tie-breaker mode where a runner starts on second base at the beginning of the inning for each team in the top and bottom half of the frame. Lucky for us, our fastest guy is put on second base, as he was the last batted out the previous inning. We have our second hitter up who happens to be a top hitter of ours too, and just like explained before that conventional baseball logic is kinda out the window at 9u travel. We don't bunt because a hit, a backside grounder or fly ball to the outfield will do a lot as well. Pruitt hits a hard hit ball to semi-short RF, and Coach Crawford calls for Brody to tag. He times it perfectly and takes off with an explosion of quickness. I know it will take a perfect throw to strike him down, and I got more than I bargained for. In the third base box, I have a perfect in line view of a throw from the right fielder that is dead on target straight. In the moment, I see that the throw MAY be a little short which could create a big short hop with top spin for the third baseman...so I let the runner continue. What I did not bargain for was that in addition to the near perfect, strong throw was the slick third baseman who has obviously listened to some really good coaching or is just a baseball wunderkind. He closes on the throw (up the baseline about three feet), and by doing so avoids the tough top spin hop and tags the baserunner out in a bang-bang play. If he would've waited on that ball to catch on the up hop, and tried to put a tag on the runner, the play would have resulted in a safe call....but the RF-3B combo is real good and made a great baseball play together. Coach Crawford- 0, RF and 3B - 1. So, we start our first inning of extra innings giving up our runner at second, and making the first out at third. I could be hanged for less in many baseball-knowledgeable counties around the south. We go on to not score in this inning, and a misjudgement by our coach may cost this team the game. Enter Landon King....once again. In the bottom of the seventh he comes in and strikes out three in a row, which also happen to be the 2nd, 3rd and 4th hitters. Oh by the way, they can all hit really well...so it makes King's effort even more impressive. So, a huge win for Landon on the mound to shut their big threat offensive guys out, and we get to play another inning.
We are lower seed and therefore the visitor in this game. So, in the top of 8th inning we needed another spark to rectify the previous inning's mishap. Aydan Bradley has been our hottest hitter the last two tournaments. In this tournament his hitting was pedestrian by comparision, and he mixed in some really good swings with some sloppy ones. Well, he righted the ship when he lead off this inning with a hammer shot triple to the fence which scored our runner that got to start on second base in the beginning of this inning. So, now we have a one-run lead, runner on third base and hitter pacing their cage and ready to get in the batter's box. Landon King immediately singles home Bradley to create a two run cushion. Blake Hartness refuses to be outdone and bullied a single into the outfield. Walker Spargo gets on base by a hit by pitch which loads the bases. Luke Lassiter steps up to the plate and gets on base with a fielder's choice. We have another out recorded which makes two outs and Dalton Skipper draws a walk which re-loads the bases. Brody Crawford comes up and gets retribution on these fielders that have snagged two previous line shots he hit for outs in this game, and delivers a bases clearing three-run triple. He later goes on to score on a passed ball and our inning ends with an 8-1 lead. All we have to do is get these RAMblers out of here with three outs. Is it ever that easy in baseball though?
Bottom of the 8th inning has their runner on second base and no outs ready, and their first hitter opens up with a triple. Next guy up offers a single, scoring the runner at third. So, they get on the board with a quick two runs and the Bandits coaches begin to pray for rain. King wasn't so worried though, and struck the next two batters out. After the next batter ran the count full and watched a close pitch (strike?) go by, he walked. King bore down and retired the next batter via strikeout ending the game. Hartness and King pitched a great game, and grew in baseball years by seven today. Hartness threw six innings, and King pitched three to combine on a gem of a baseball pitching performance.
Offensive leaders in this game were: Landon King (2-3, two singles, 1 run), Walker Spargo (1-3, double, 1 run), Aydan Bradley (1-3, triple, 1 run), Patrick Blee (1-1, double, HBP, BB), Blake Hartness (1-2, single, BB, 1 run), Zeke Pruitt (1-4, triple, 1 run) and Brody Crawford (1-4, triple, 1 run).
The Belmont Bandits won this game with an 8-4 score and secured the Gold Championship win. It was hard fought. It was well played. It was ours. This is everything about baseball you want these guys to experience at this high level of youth play. Bandit Pride.
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