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.