At least one team representing north Florida is guaranteed a championship in Omaha.
While Florida State and the University of Florida will battle for a College World Series crown, both the Gators and the Seminoles will be looking to equal the Five Star Tigers of Jacksonville, which knocked off Lids Indiana Bulls in a best-of-3 series on Sunday in Council Bluffs to take home the 11u TCSB Division I title.
Five Star’s day began bright and early on the final day of competition at the 2017 Omaha SlumpBuster. A 9 a.m. start time against an Indiana Bulls team they’d already seen in pool play and in the bracket posed potential trouble.
Even though head coach Josh Baker’s team had only scored three runs through their first two bracket games, suddenly their bats began to take life. The Tigers plated 10 runs when they met the Bulls in the semi-finals, 11 runs in Game 1 and secured the title with a 10-7 victory in Game 2 of the championship series.
“We survived the first couple of days of this tournament relying mostly on our pitching,” said Baker. “The last two days, our bats came alive and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
“After playing as many games as we did, our arms were tired and we were down to the bottom end of our bullpen, but our bats carried us to this win.”
Indiana didn’t go down without a fight, however. After falling in Game 1, the Bulls quickly raced out to the early lead, scoring the game’s first run. Five Star answered quickly in the bottom end of the frame off an RBI single from Miles Burris that brought in Kent Jackson to tie the game.
Starting pitcher Connor Thomas gave up a single to start the second inning, but that’s when his catcher, Aiden Lynch, intervened.
“I just try to give the pitchers some real positive encouragement,” said Lynch. “These guys are all my friends so when I go out there, I tell that we got this and not to worry.”
Behind Lynch’s comforting pep talk, Thomas responded with three consecutive strikeouts to end the inning and keep the contest knotted at 1-all.
The Bulls pushed another go-ahead run across in the third inning as a lead-off triple from Indiana came back to bite Five Star, despite forcing two quick outs before Indiana mustered an RBI.
Baker’s team never seemed deterred, going right back to work in the bottom of the third inning. Jackson Roper led off the frame with a triple of his own, allowing Sean Benjamin to bring him home, tying the game a second time.
Five Star wouldn’t stop there.
Chase Fralick, Miles Burris and Aiden Lynch delivered back-to-back-to-back base hits, driving home two more runs and taking their largest lead of the game at 4-2.
“We all practice very hard,” said Lynch. “When it comes to hitting, I think it’s easiest to get ahold of fastballs, so we tried to stay patient to get that perfect pitch we wanted.”
Now with a healthy lead, Thomas charged to the mound with a budding confidence. A strikeout followed by a nifty 6-4-3 double play carried the game into the final two innings, though not before a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the fourth from Dominic DeLoreto stretched the lead out to three.
Two-out walks are never useful, and for Five Star, their two-out walk in the top of the fifth into turned into a four-run barrage for Indiana. When the dust settled, Indiana had reclaimed the lead for the third time Sunday afternooon, 6-5.
Leave it to the scrappy group from Jacksonville to erase what could have been a series-changing inning. In the blink of an eye, two walks and a single loaded the bases. When Miles Burris got pelted in the arm, the game fell tied once again. With momentum on their side, Aiden Lynch, Isaac Newman, Brooks Baker and Jace Glisson all dialed up RBI hits, catapulting Five Star on top, 10-6.
In the final frame, Indiana wanted to make sure they left everything on the field. Three of the first four batters all reached safely, loading the bases. Again Lynch delivered a pep talk to Jackson Roper, who had come on to finish the game off.
A run slid by as the Tigers failed to squeeze sequential fly balls. Finally, out came Baker.
“When I came out to the mound, there were two outs and the bases loaded,” explained Baker. “I just told them to relax and play this game like they have since they were three years old.”
Almost immediately, Roper forced a pop up to Newman at first base and the championship was finally in the hands of Five Star.
“Coach said we could dogpile if we won,” said Lynch. “It was just such a great feeling to actually do it when it happened.”
The Tiger’s victory capped a grueling five-day stretch, where they faced eight opponents, finishing with a record of 7-0-1, tying to who else but the Indiana Bulls.
“This win just shows us that this team is where I thought we were,” said Baker. “We don’t have any one stud, we just have a group of kids who just play and force you to beat them. It feels amazing to walk away as champions in such a great tournament.”