by Matt Antonic
GRAPEVINE, TX -- Before the Texas Season Opener began, Excel Knights coach James Sims reminded his team that one of the goals was to make it to Sunday night, when a potential championship game would be played.
Sunday afternoon, the opportunity was there for the taking. After trading runs in the first two innings against Buzz Stone in a semifinal matchup, the Knights awoke with fury.
An RBI double by William Sims put his team on top in the fourth inning, and it felt like the runs never stopped coming with the 11uD2 Knights eventually sealing an 11-1 victory. Coach Sims credited adjustments for his and the team’s strong day at the plate.
“In those last two innings, I had another chance,” he said. “I got it out front so I could actually drive the ball out. I had to focus on the right things.”
For a team that made plenty of noise in its games on Saturday, this was a special display of hitting, pitching and baserunning.
Coach Sims said he was impressed with all aspects of the victory, but reserved special props to the team’s pitching effort. The Knights have had far more than a few contributors on the mound this weekend.
Sims estimated seven to eight players had taken turns pitching during the weekend. On Sunday afternoon, the most dominant arm was that of the hard-throwing Daniel Carter, whose velocity left Buzz hitters often struggling to catch up.
“I’ve been coaching Daniel since he was eight years old, and that kid has potential,” Coach Sims said. “We’ve been waiting for five seasons to see that type of performance, because that’s the type of pitcher he can be."
The total pitching effort resulted in just one run allowed, and by the late innings were largely preventing anyone on the Buzz from reaching base. The work the team has put in on the diamond in practice was evident with the crisp defense on display.
The performance may be surprising to someone who hasn’t seen the team before, but it was par for the course of the Knights this weekend. The team tossed a shutout in the first game Saturday and allowed just three runs in the second before allowing Buzz to cross the plate just once Sunday afternoon.
Ryder Greer said “it was the energy” of his team that kept the focus sharp and the execution high.
The strong performance at the plate was more than enough insurance for its pitching, racking up several base hits off hard hit balls into the gaps.
Trevor Graves may have had the hardest hit of the day, launching a towering shot over the right-fielder’s head to push another run across the plate. “Not going to lie, I thought it was about to one hop the fence,” a smiling Graves said. “But at least I got a double and scored some runs.”
The hit symbolized the work the Knights do at practice in learning to drive the ball to different parts of the field. For having played only a handful of games on the young season, Sims is impressed with the sharpness of his team.
“It’s the first tournament of the season and everybody’s arms are tired,” Sims said. “Everybody’s pitched in, every kid has done what they’re supposed to do.”
The Sunday night Sims talked about with his team finally rolled around. The sun set and the temperature dropped, and in front of the Knights was their final obstacle for a championship, the NTX Pirates.
You wouldn’t have known the Knights had just spent the whole weekend exhausting all their energy by the way they played. Another dominant performance on the mound and at the plate propelled the Knights to a 9-2 victory, capping off a terrific weekend of baseball in North Texas. Excel was actually the No. 9 seed heading into the bracket, but they posted a 12-0 win to start Sunday and then best the top-seeded DFW Jets-Avila, 5-3, in the quarterfinals.
The Knights are champions with a whole season still in front of them. Everyone on the team wants to improve, but Greer said there was one goal they all shared as a whole. “We want to win as many tournaments as we can,” he said.
Here's a few more updates on what to expect Sunday at the Texas Season Opener:
14uD1 Top Prospects, Oak Grove Park -- The EE Cardinals emerged from pool play with the No. 1 seed, followed the USA Prime-Mitchell, Dallas Tigers-Reynolds and Mariucci Prospects. Title game is 4 p.m.
14uD2, McInnish Park -- United 9 Bethard leads the way; Texas Rattlers-Bryson are in the No. 2 spot. From out of state, the Oklahoma Fuel 13's are the fourth seed -- title game is set for 4 p.m.
13uD1, McInnish Park -- Two Dallas Tigers teams are in the top two spots -- title game set for 4 p.m.
12uD3, Bakersfield Park -- NTXBC Dirtbags-Cope are on one side of the bracket, with the Texas Rattlers-del Muro in the No. 2 spot. Championship game is 4 p.m.
12uD1, McInnish Park -- The Texas Broncos are in the top spot, with Texas Scrappers-Buesing at the No. 2 position. Title game is 4 p.m.
by Matt Antonic
Maybe it was playing two games in a row, five consecutive hours, that had the Keller Aces struggling to put runners across the plate at Railroad Park for the Texas Season Opener. It certainly could have had something to do with the fact that well-struck balls kept finding their way into the glove of Texas Edge players.
Whatever the reason, the Aces found itself trailing 7-2 in the bottom of the fifth inning Saturday.
The word momentum gets thrown around plenty in sports, but it becomes hard to question once it plays out in reality. It starts with a walk or a defensive error or, in the case of the Aces Saturday, an inside the park home run that led to an 8-7 victory.
A couple of walks later and all of the sudden the floodgates were opening. Keller was getting men on base and into scoring position.
With the bases loaded, Blaine Hamilton had his chance, and he delivered. Hamilton unloaded a two-run single to right field, and just like that the Aces had pulled to within one run. The energy was palpable now.
“I knew I needed to do something special,” Hamilton said. He credited some of the Aces batters who had been struggling during the game getting clutch hits for the extra inspiration.
The Edge had made stellar defensive plays all day, but a letdown came at one of the worst possible times. Another hit for the Aces had the Edge throwing the ball home, only for it to get past the catcher and allow the tying run to score. The fans on the blue side of the field were as loud and spirited as they had been all day long.
Blake Lopez stepped to the plate and was not about to let the rally end with the bat in his hands. He knocked another base hit, scoring the winning run and capping off a remarkable six- run rally in the fifth inning.
In normal circumstances, the walk-off would result in a wild celebration among fans, players and coaches alike. Only this time, there was no functioning scoreboard to keep fans alert of the score. It took a moment for coaches and umpires to confer, only to realize that run number eight was the winning run and that the game was over.
It was a delayed celebration, but the Aces weren’t bothered, pouring out of the dugout to hug and high five. The Aces had played two games on the day and earned two hard fought victories. The bats had woken up at the game’s most crucial juncture. For coach Jeff Slone, it was more than enough to call the day a success.
"We knew we had the first game, and then we came into the second game and the bats weren’t going the way we wanted them,” he said. “We just said to keep going out there and do what you know. Be intentional and it’ll happen.”
It was the Aces first tournament of the season, so one wouldn’t be able to fault a lack of fundamentals on display. Saturday was the opposite for the Edge and the Aces. The game featured hard hit balls and extra base hits spread out through five exciting innings. It also featured a handful of defensive gems and crisp plays. Sloan was impressed by the showing from both teams coming out of the scholastic sports season.
“There really weren’t a lot of errors, and out here on dirt guys are worried about how the ball is going to bounce on them,” Slone said. “Man I feel like guys are in a good spot right now."
Hamilton agreed with the assessment. It was smart and confident baserunning that allowed the Aces to be in the spot they were to finish the rally. “I was gonna go two on that hit,” he said. “But when I looked to go, I thought it was enough to get my teammates in, and that I was going to be able to go (to second base) anyway on the steal.”
A day under the perfect spring sun saw two exciting wins for the Aces of Keller, who will now ready themselves for action on Sunday. A confident Hamilton said they would definitely be ready.
"The wins are going to be able to get us ready to play tomorrow, rain or not,” he said. ‘We’re going to come out and do our best and I’m going to rally the team.”
13uD2 roundup -- The Aces ended up with the No. 4 seed overall, with the top three spots going to the Dallas Trojans, TCR Bobcats and Texas Forge Orange. The title game is scheduled for 4 p.m. at Breckinridge Park.
We've got a handful of age groups and divisions that have settled into their Sunday bracket assignments for the Texas Season Opener.
11uD1, Wagon Wheel Park -- Texas Smoke has the top seed and gets a Round 1 bye; Texas Stix is the No. 2 seed and will face Baseball Youth Elite at 8 a.m. Title game scheduled for 2 p.m.
8u Coach Pitch, Oak Grove Park -- JoCo Patriots emerges with the top seed, right ahead of NTX Spartans. Championship game set for 3:30 p.m.
10uD3, Wagon Wheel Park -- Texas Wizards earn the top spot, with the Southlake Dragons-Butcher sitting at No. 2. Title game at 2 p.m.
10uD1, Oak Grove Park -- Texas Throwdown leads the way, followed by Duran Baseball and Baseball Youth Elite. Final game at 1:15 p.m.
11uD2, Oak Grove Park -- It's the DFW Jets-Avila leading the way; along with the Dallas Tigers-Reyno, those teams have first-round byes. Title game set for 6 p.m.
9uD2, Oak Grove Park -- NTXBC Dirtbags have the top spot, with Frisco Riders next, and both teams have a Round 1 bye. Championship game set for 3 p.m.
The drought is finally over -- for the first time in 2020, the bats finally got going in Texas.
The Texas Season Opener saw a total of 280 teams arrive in the Dallas Metroplex area for the first weekend of Triple Crown Baseball in the Lone Star State.
In a three-game minimum tournament and a single-elimination playoff bracket, coaches had the opportunity to get a look at their new lineups, and players from 7u-14u squads battled for early season bragging rights.
One of the biggest highlights in the Texas Season Opener was the invite-only 14u D1 Invite bracket. After both teams handed each other a loss earlier in the tournament, Dulins Dodgers Prime (Godwin) and Dallas Texans-Nalley survived and advanced their way in the playoffs en route to the 14u D1 Invite championship game.
In the championship showdown, the Dodgers’ completed a 3-0 shutout of the Texans and took home the tournament’s most prestigious trophy. READ MORE >> 14u Invite
The Dodgers were the big winners of the weekend as their 12u team also took home hardware. The only other programs to take home multiple championships were the Texas Edge from Granbury, TX in both the 11u D2 and D3 brackets, and also 5 Star Performance out of Longview, TX at 12 D2 and 14 D2.
On the other 14u D1 side, the Oklahoma Mudcats swept through the competition in Texas with a perfect 5-0 weekend. In the championship game, the Mudcats held on to a 5-4 victory over their in-state competition, Fuel Baseball. In back-and-forth action all game, the Mudcats took a 2-0 lead, but Fuel Baseball claimed the lead 3-2 in the third inning.
The Mudcats reclaimed the lead later in the game and never looked back, as they were crowned champions. READ MORE >> 14u D1
After a great weekend of baseball, this Triple Crown baseball season looks to be off to a high start. Congratulations to all the champions of the Texas Season Opener!
7u: Frisco Riders - Rae (Frisco, TX)
8u: TCR Bobcats - Deevers (Roanoke, TX)
9u D2: Texas Rattlers - Brown (Flower Mound, TX)
9u D3: Texas Baseball Club (Durant, OK)
10u D1: Arlington Twins (Arlington, TX)
10u D2: West Texas Mayhem (Hamlin, TX)
10u D3: Enemy (Plano, TX)
11u D1: Canes Southwest – Berry (Decatur, TX)
11u D2: Texas Edge - Taylor (Granbury, TX)
11u D3: Texas Edge - Carroll (Granbury, TX)
12u D1: Dulins Dodgers - Godwin (Melissa, TX)
12u D2: 5 Star Performance - Copeland (Longview, TX)
12u D3: Colleyville Texas Trouble (Colleyville, TX)
13u D1: Academy Select - Ingram (Allen, TX)
13u D2: TC Cougar Elite (The Colony, TX)
13u D3: Coppell Cowboys Red (Irving, TX)
14u D1: Oklahoma Mudcats (Choctaw, OK)
14u D1 Invite: Dulins Dodgers Prime - Godwin (Frisco, TX)
14u D2: 5 Star Performance - Moran (Longview, TX)
14u D3: Cooperstown Cobras - Tinius (Fort Worth, TX)
by Joseph Fragano
CARROLLTON, TX -- The Oklahoma Mudcats are champions of the 14u D1 bracket of this year’s Texas Season Opener after beating Fuel Baseball, 5-4, in a nail-biter of a final Sunday evening at McInnish Park.
It looked to be a pitcher’s duel after three scoreless innings for both teams. Mudcats starter Pryce Bender had a particularly good night on the mound. Bender threw three scoreless innings to start the game for the Mudcats and said his command of the strike zone was the key to his performance.
“My curveball was working,” said Bender. “I was locating, hitting my spots, and doing what I could just to get outs.”
The Mudcats (Choctaw, OK) struck first in the bottom of the third after Ty Parker’s RBI single up the middle broke the scoreless tie. The Mudcats scratched another run across the plate to take a 2-0 lead after three innings.
Parker said his approach at the plate was simple; put the ball in play.
“It was 0-0 with a runner on third and I needed to get it done,” he said. “He threw me a fastball down the middle and I just hit it up the middle."
Fuel Baseball (Edmond, OK) responded with an offensive outburst of their own. The Fuel hitters capitalized on several key errors by the Mudcats and jumped out in front with a 3-2 lead of their own.
The lead would not last for Fuel. In the top of the fourth the Mudcats scored on a bases-loaded hit batter, an error, and a fielder’s choice to see-saw back in front by a score of 5-3.
Mudcats coach Shawn Norman says his team has pitched well lately, but their ability to come through at the plate with runners in scoring position was the key to this championship victory.
“All weekend we threw strikes,” he said. “This is our first tournament, so you always worry about that but (Sunday) we had enough timely hits to win.”
Fuel mounted a comeback attempt in the sixth inning, closing the gap to just one run after scoring on a passed ball, but ultimately stranded the tying run on third base. The Mudcats would go on to shut the door in the seventh inning.
Both teams were air-tight defensively during their two pool play games Saturday; the Fuel allowed zero runs, and the Mudcats gave up just two runs.
By Lary Bump
GRAPEVINE, Texas – Right-hander Ian Garza was the losing pitcher for Dulins Dodgers Prime (Godwin) when Dallas Texans-Nalley rallied to stay alive in the Texas Season Opener 14u D1 Invite.
With the championship on the line Sunday at the Texas Season Opener, left-hander Ian Garza came out of the bullpen to save the Dodgers’ 3-0 shutout of the Texans.
As a parent in the stands said, “same pitcher, different arm.”
Garza, you see, is ambidextrous.
“I’ve always been able to do it,” he said. “I’ve thrown more right (handed) over time, but I’ve been getting more left. I threw the same pitches with both, and I’m as comfortable with each.
“As a kid, my dad just assumed I’d be a righty. I would just do things lefty because I was natural-born lefty and now I just throw with both.”
Chris Godwin owns the Dulins Dodgers program at Diamond Kings Baseball Academy in McKinney, TX. It is affiliated with the Performance Sports Institute in Memphis, founded by former minor league infielder Tim Dulin. Growing up there, Godwin played for the original Dulins Dodgers. He later was a catcher in summer college baseball in the Northwoods League.
“(Garza’s) very special,” Godwin said. “His poise on both sides is fantastic. But with that, there’s extra work. Now he has to get bullpens from both sides.”
What Garza doesn’t get are separate innings limits from the left and right sides. His total from the two sides combined can’t exceed the innings limits of right- or left-handed-only pitchers.
“There’s a little strategy from the coach’s side for managing that process,” Godwin said.
Sunday's drama began with the 3:00 14u Elite title game between the Dodgers and the Texans; the Texans won, 4-3, to force the "if" game in the double elimination format. Coming off that one-run, complete-game loss, Garza started the 5:00 final in left field. In the third inning, he tripled home the first run and scored the second of the three that proved to be the game’s only runs.
Winning pitcher Matthew Mainord pitched five scoreless innings, allowing five hits. Garza then retired six of the seven batters he faced.
The Dodgers are likely to be traveling this summer.
“We’ll go all over the country,” Godwin said. “If they continue to progress, we’ll continue to put them in the right events. As crazy as it sounds, some of these guys will have an opportunity to start the college recruiting process.”
Dallas Texans-Nalley spent most of Sunday at windswept Oak Grove Park Field H on the shore of Grapevine Lake fighting their way back after Dulins Dodgers handed Nalley its first loss, 3-1, in the 11:00 a.m. opener.
In the losers’ bracket final, the Texans trailed Texas Stix 2024-Boughton 7-1, and then 9-4 after 3½ innings. They scored twice in the sixth but still trailed 9-6 in the time-limited last inning, the bottom of the fifth.
Caleb Watkins tripled home two runs and scored the tying run on a single by Jack Sharp. With one out and the bases loaded. Zach Pearrow dribbled a slow roller down the third base line, and Sharp took home a 10-9 win when the ball couldn’t be handled.
Dulins Dodgers appeared to need only one game to take the title when they scored three runs in the first inning and put their first two batters on base in the second. Cameron Randall relieved starting pitcher Pearrow and pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings.
In the meantime, the Texans scored two runs in the third inning and another in the fourth before taking a 4-3 lead on Matt Millett’s fifth-inning sacrifice fly.
It wasn’t over yet. The Dodgers loaded the bases with two out in the bottom of the seventh. Then Kendyl Johnson got a 2-0 count from Randall. Layton Nalley relieved Randall and threw his first pitch high and way wide of the plate. He settled down to get two called strikes. On the 3-2 pitch, Johnson lifted a fly ball to left field that Watkins caught to set up the winner-take-all "if" game.
The Dulins Dodgers-Godwin 12u D1 team also won a championship, defeating Dallas Tigers Reynolds, 8-4.
“I coach both teams,” Godwin said. “Unfortunately, I can’t be at two places at one time, but we’ve got a great staff. We’ve always got another good pair of hands.”
By Lary Bump
Fundamentals and strong relief pitching carried Dulins Dodgers TX-Maes to a season-opening two wins Saturday.
That was good timing, because it put the Dodgers into the Platinum Bracket of the Texas Season Opener 13u D1 tournament.
“We’re dusting the rust off,” Dodgers coach Mike Maes said. “We didn’t play any fall ball. This was a good start.
“We play a lot of small ball. These kids, I’ve had five of them from 7u, 8u, 9u, so they’ve been with me a long time.”
Using that small-ball approach, Dulins Dodgers won 5-3 decisions at the Railroad Park Yellow diamond over Dallas Mustangs-Martin and NTXBC Dirtbags-Woods from Southlake, Texas.
The Dodgers, representing McKinney, won’t have an easy road to win the bracket Sunday. They’re seeded eighth and will have to play No. 9 USA Prime 13u Torres from neighboring Melissa.
Win that one, and the Dodgers would meet top-seeded Academy Select-Ingram from Plano. Without a first-round bye, Dulins Dodgers would need to win four games to take the double-elimination championship.
Against the Dirtbags, it didn’t appear early on that the Dodgers would be one of the eight teams winning two games on Saturday. The McKinney squad left the bases loaded in the top of the first inning, and the Dirtbags scored three runs in the bottom of the inning.
“We don’t like to get down because we know that always leads to bad body language,” second baseman Jake Lyons said. “We just kind of keep our heads up. Something good’s going to happen when we hit the ball, and we were able to rally.”
Sure enough, still trailing 3-0 in the third, the Dodgers used four hits, including a double by third baseman Roman Robinson, to score three runs.
That’s when Maes went full-on small ball. Diego Reyes bunted in front of the plate and beat the throw to first base for a hit.
“That kid is the fastest kid on our team,” Maes said.
Reyes then stole second base, and Lyons came up with instructions to bunt the runner to third. His effort accomplished more than that. He bunted down the first base line and the Dirtbags pitcher threw wildly, allowing Lyons to reach second base and Reyes to score for a 4-3 lead.
“In a crucial position in the game, I was trying to help the team out,” Lyons said, “at least move the runner so we could knock something in. I wanted to lay something so I could get to first and maybe get a bad throw out of the pitcher, which we did.
“We feel like we’re very polished.”
Lyons held second base on a single off the shortstop’s glove, then scored himself when the Dirtbags made another wild throw on an attempted double-play relay.
The Southlake team didn’t have a chance to tie the game. The Dodgers’ No. 5, Drew “Cinco” Hanstad, struck out all three batters he faced in the third inning. In the fourth, Robinson struck out the first two Dirtbags and got the final out on a grounder to shortstop Dylan Terry, who also contributed a double and a single.
By Lary Bump
CARROLLTON, TX– There are plenty of ways to win a baseball game.
The Dallas Patriots-Brooks went to extremes to win their two games at McInnish Sports Complex on Friday in the Texas Season Opener 14u D1 Invite.
They opened the tournament with 11 runs in the first inning on the way to a 17-2 victory over Dugout Glory.
The Patriots’ bats cooled off on a clear, chilly night with temperatures in the 50s and a bright waxing gibbous moon high above the backstop. They had just one hit, a bunt single, in the final four innings against the Lubbock Heat.
The winning “hit” was a one-out, bases-loaded hit by pitch that gave Dallas a 4-3 win.
The Heat heard the critical pitch hit the bat, and wanted it called a foul ball. Patriots coach Sherrard Brooks said the pitch hit the batter’s arm first, which is what the plate umpire ruled.
“We just happened to get into position to do something (Saturday),” Brooks said. “We’ll take it.”
The 14u Patriots are part of one of the most successful organizations in the Metroplex, with age-group teams from 7 through 18. The Brooks team is one of five teams with two wins going into Saturday’s play in the 12-team D1 Invite. The others are the Dallas Tigers-Lyons, Dulins Dodgers Prime (Godwin) from Frisco, Dallas Texans-Nailey and Texas Bombers-Okon from Grand Prairie.
The field includes 11 Texas teams and the Twin City Captains-Red from Bossier City, LA.
In the night game, the Patriots took a 3-0 lead and had the bases loaded with one out in the second inning, but the Heat shut down the Dallas offense. In the end, three walks loaded the bases, then the next pitch forced in the run to end the game.
“We swung the bat really good the first game. We pitched really well. We just kept hitting. We kept finding gaps and hitting good pitches. That’s how you want to start the first game of the season,” Brooks said after Game 2.
“It got real cold quick. This game, we left a couple guys on base, but they had some pretty good arms. I really tip my hat to them because they pitched well. We hit a couple balls hard at people. I’m happy with what we’ve got.”
Until his team took the field, Brooks didn’t really know what he had.
“This is the first spring this team has been together. We had two or three different teams and we had to put them all together to make this team. We kind of played a little bit in the fall.
“I think are strength is going to be pitching. We’re missing three guys that are pretty good pitchers right now. I hope we hit like this the whole season.”
Brooks said the team will play in other tournaments close to home and might travel to out-of-town events.
“No need to take them to see the world if we’re not ready," he added.