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.