The 11u Utah Grays were faced with a near impossible feat after losing its first game of bracket play in the 2017 Triple Crown World Series. Tasked with a mountain of games in front of them after the loss, the Grays rallied together and rattled off eight consecutive victories, including two over the Oklahoma Mudcats in the championship series to claim the crown.
“I told the boys this morning that we were going to play 10 and bat 10,” explained head coach David Piersall. “And once we got to the championship series we were going to go all 12 innings.”
Turning their head coach into a soothsayer, the Grays did indeed make it the distance at Howelsen Hill Park on Sunday afternoon. However, they needed two wins earlier in the day to even set up the heavyweight matchup against the Mudcats.
A quick 5-0 shutout of the KC Dirt Dogs advanced Utah one round further, but it was the team’s 6-1 win over Dallas Tigers-Bergman that put them in the title match. Oklahoma on the other hand virtually breezed through bracket play, sporting a clean 7-0 mark before the championships.
Early in the opening contest the skill level was starkly apparent on both sides. The Mudcats turned a nifty 5-4-3 double play to end the top half of the inning, while Zach Edwards capped off the bottom half with a strikeout for the Grays.
Oklahoma struck the initial blow in the second inning, landing an RBI single scoring Aj Lynch. Utah would come back in a big way in the third inning, utilizing five base hits, four walks and a big two-RBI single from Nash Matheson to plate six total runs to retake the lead, 6-1.
“We got production out of virtually everyone in the lineup,” said Piersall. “Even at the bottom of the order, we’ve produced big hits.”
The Mudcats responded in the bottom half of the third with two extra-base hits, one of those a two-RBI triple from Pryce Bender. Oklahoma’s four runs vaulted the Mudcats back into the conversation trailing only by one run, 6-5.
Just as they had done all week long, the Grays rolled with punches, plating a seventh run thanks to a triple from Carson Moody.
Trouble arose in the bottom of the fifth inning when Lynch tripled to score two runs and tie the ballgame at seven. Will Dart wasn’t about his team’s magical run end, though. Recording an RBI double of his own, Dart would score on the next at-bat to give the Grays a 9-7 lead with three outs to go.
Piersall, with the another game with the Mudcats in his sights, tabbed his closer Carson Moody to get the job done.
“I knew I had an opportunity to close the game out,” said Moody. “I just wanted to get those three outs and move on the next one.”
Moody, calm and composed, closed out the Mudcats with two groundouts and a strikeout to force the “if” game.
“I was feeling pretty confident,” said Zach Edwards. “After winning that first game, we still had good pitchers left and all of the momentum was on our side.”
Each team reset its respective lineups and each fanbase reset their respective nerves for the final bout between the Grays and the Mudcats, this one for the 11u crown.
Cooper Hansen got the starting gig on the mound from Piersall and gave a truly gutty performance. Three nearly perfect innings blanked the Mudcats, allowing the Grays offense to take its turn.
Edwards, though not on the mound for Game 2, found a way to make an impact in the batters box, starting the second inning off with a triple. Will Dart eventually brought him home for his second RBI of the series, giving the Grays the early lead, 1-0.
The scoring remained relatively quiet until the fourth inning when Cash Williams dialed up a double, scoring two runs and putting the Mudcats on top, 2-1.
Before the bottom of the fourth inning, a bank of ominous clouds loomed over Steamboat Springs and with a bolt of lightning, the game entered a delay.
“I wanted the boys to get some extra energy,” Piersall said. “So while we had a bit of a break, I sent one of our dads for some chocolate milk.”
Refueled and ready for action, the Grays came out in full force. Edwards again came through for his squad, this time with a double. In total, Utah pushed across three runs, leapfrogging the Mudcats, 4-2.
Utah fans would not have a chance to breathe easy in the fifth inning. The Mudcats rallied again to score two more runs off a triple from Easton Costa, tying the game at four. With a chance to break the game wide open, Piersall went to Moody once more on the mound facing bases loaded with nobody out. Moody countered with a huge strikeout and promptly forced a momentum swinging 6-4-3 double play to get out of the inning.
“The boys did a great job of keeping each other up during the game,” said Piersall. “I think when the crowd started to get rowdy, they started to hype themselves up.”
A raucous crowd revealed itself again in the bottom of the fifth inning with runners on first and second and two outs for Porter Lindsey. In the biggest of moments, Lindsey doubled, scoring both runs and setting up a save opportunity for Moody to win the 11u championship.
In a complete deja vu moment for Utah’s fan faithful, Moody forced Oklahoma into three grounders, finishing off an improbable stretch of wins to claim the title, 6-4.
“I knew that if we could just keep hitting the ball hard we might have a shot,” said Piersall. “These boys just kept fighting, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a little excited to be here myself.”
A complete marathon effort led the Grays to the title, playing 12 games across five days, seven in the last two and four on the final day alone.
“This championship means everything,” said Edwards. “I was glad to play alongside my brothers, and this is by far the most fun tournament I’ve ever played in.”