Back in November of 2016, the Kings Baseball Black and Houston Pioneers 11u teams met each other on a cold day in Texas, with the Kings holding on for a one-run victory.
Eight months later, the teams had their paths cross again, in the Christie Peak bracket of the Triple Crown 11u World Series in Steamboat Springs, Colo. It might just be that these programs, who faced each other commonly when they were playing 8u and 9u, are destined to play nailbiters, because they had another one Saturday – a 5-4 victory by the Kings that ended when they finally doused a two-out rally by the Pioneers in the bottom of the sixth inning.
The win keeps the Kings moving in the upper half of the bracket; they will face the team that emerges from the loser’s half on Sunday at Ski Town North, needing just one more victory to claim the bracket title.
Saturday, the Kings trailed 2-1 after four innings, took a 3-2 lead after six and plated two more runs in the top of the sixth. They needed every bit of offense, as the Pioneers used two hits, two walks and an error to make it more than interesting.
“All year, we’ve trained to be mentally tough in crucial situations. We felt like we had the right pitcher in to get the job down, and we were going to trust our defense to work behind him,” said Kings coach Wyndell Hamilton, referencing the relief work of Michael Wright, who worked the fifth and sixth innings.
The defense played great in the fifth, with Reed Hubble and Jack Hubble both making nice plays, but an error in the sixth opened the door for the Pioneers. With a 5-2 lead, Wright did get a flyout and strikeout, but with two on, Javier Rodriguez smacked a single that brought in both runners to make it 5-4.
Two walks later, the bases were loaded, but Wright got a harmless popout to second base, and the game was tucked away amid a lot of relieved smiles.
“I wanted to pump strikes, keep pumping strikes until we got out of the inning,” Wright said. “I was getting nervous. But we have improved a lot.”
The Kings got two huge insurance runs in the sixth, on an inside-the-park home run from Daniel Garcia and a double from Parker Smith. Jack Hubble and Hudson Hamilton each had crucial two-out RBI singles in the fifth inning as well.
“On my at-bat where I got the home run, I was thinking, I’m going to put my team in the lead. And then I hit that home run,” said Garcia, who reached base three times. “I was trusting Michael and the defense to do the right thing and get us out of that (late) situation.”
“We felt Michael would get us some pop flys or ground balls, and we trust the work we’ve put in since the beginning of the year to get us in the championship game,” coach Hamilton added. “From the beginning of the year, we’ve said the team is most important – the individual makes the team, and the team makes the individual successful. We’re glad to be in the championship.”