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.