FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Dallas Tigers-Hernandez pitching standout Christian Ruebeck could be seen early Friday afternoon smiling broadly, accepting hugs from adults, back-slaps and high-fives from teammates and generally just enjoying the whole scene at the softball quad at the Lee County Sports Complex.
Ruebeck and his Dallas Tigers-Hernandez teammates had just put a big hurt on the SIII Hustler's in the championship game at the 12u PG BCS Finals, a 10-4 decision that led to the Tigers' first Perfect Game national championship. They had scooted through eight games over five days with an unblemished 8-0 record, and were enjoying hoisting the championship trophy.
"This was amazing; I loved it, dude, it was so much fun," Ruebeck said, glowing brightly. "I got to come down here with the Dallas Tigers with one of our best teams to play on, and I got to come down here and do my thing and pitch."
In reality, the Tigers-Hernandez did their thing all week, outscoring six pool-play opponents in the 16-team tournament by a combined 47-17, and doing it with a mature but playful demeanor not usually found in young guys that will be heading into seventh grade in the fall.
"This is a blast," Tigers head coach Chad Polk said shortly after his young troops doused him with a couple of jugs of ice water. "These kids have done this every single year where they've been in a championship game (at various tournaments), and we've lost by (one) run three years in a row. Now, to be able to finally do it, makes it that much sweeter.
"We had a great week all week," he said. "Our pitching was outstanding -- they really competed -- and it was the quality at-bats from the top to the bottom of the order. There was production all the way through the lineup."
The Tigers-Hernandez pushed across five runs in the top of the first inning in the all-Texas title game -- the SIII Hustler's are based in Corpus Christi -- and coasted from there. They added two more in the second, another two in the fourth and led, 9-2, after five.
They totaled nine hits in the win, led by a 2-for-3, two-RBI effort from Garrett Reuben (2019, Dallas). Dillon Carter (2019, Flower Mound, Texas) and Brenden Dixon (2019 Weatherford, Texas) each singled twice and Nicolas Balsano (2019, Colleyville, Texas) delivered a two-run double.
Jaden Woodson (2019, Plano. Texas) -- the son of former Dallas Cowboys All-Pro safety Darren Woodson, who was at the yard -- was 1-for-2 and scored two runs, and also picked up the win on the hill by working the game's final 3 2/3 innings.
The SIII Hustler's (7-1) totaled 11 hits in the game, with 10 different players collecting them; M.J. Rodriguez (2020, Corpus Christi, Texas) uncorked a two-run home run to lead the way.
"These kids have been on a roll for months, so I wouldn't call it a roll I would say that the kids understand their role on the team," Polk said of his Tigers. "Just because our 3-hole hitter isn't going that day doesn't mean that 7-8-9 can't scratch a run across. It's a team game and we're playing the game as opposed to just sitting back and waiting the double to be hit or the bomb."
The Tigers' Ruebeck, a 5-foot-3, 105-pound 2019 right-hander out of Denison, Texas, was named the tournament's Most Valuable Pitcher. Ruebeck made three appearances and allowed one earned run in eight innings (0.88 ERA) with 15 strikeouts and four walks.
"The most fun was being down here with my friends and family and pitching and stuff," he said. "We got to hang out at the beach all the time and we played baseball; that's what we do."
Anthony Garza, the Hustler's 5-foot-9, 170-pound third baseman from Grand Prairie, Texas, was named the Most Valuable Player. The video game numbers Garza posted included a .647 batting average (11-for-17) with six extra base hits (including two home runs), 17 RBI, 13 runs scored and a whopping 1.946 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
"This was cool, very awesome," the soft-spoken Garza said of the experience. "You get to see better things and new players and everybody. I really enjoyed the winning and having fun."
The Dallas Tigers-Hernandez advanced to the championship game after hanging on to top Team Mizuno Houston (5-1-1) in a semifinal game Friday morning. The Tigers jumped to an early 3-0 lead after two innings and led 4-2 after four, with Mizuno Houston inching within one in the top of the sixth.
Cameron Constantine (2019, McKinney, Texas) singled and drove in two runs, Balsano accounted for two of the Tigers' four hits, and Woodson and Hudson Polk (2020, Coppell, Texas) each contributed an RBI. The right-handed Reuben pitched 5 2/3 innings, allowing one earned run on four hits with seven strikeouts and one walk. Woodson delivered a three-pitch strikeout to pick up the save.
Payton Harden (2018, Humble, Texas) homered, tripled, drove in a run and scored two others to lead Team Mizuno Houston. Righty Brian Jaurez (2018, Corpus Christi, Texas) worked 3 2/3 innings of one-hit ball in relief, allowing one earned run and striking out seven.
The SIII Hustler's battled back from a 4-1, second-inning deficit with three runs in the bottom of the third and three more in the bottom of the fifth for a 7-4 win over the East Cobb Braves 12u (5-1-1) in the other semifinal Friday morning.
Garza powered the Hustler's attack with a home run, triple, four RBI and two runs. The Hustler's totaled six hit and were also issued seven walks. Right-hander Wade Elliott (2019, Midland, Texas) threw 5 2/3 innings in relief and allowed one earned run on three hits with 11 strikeouts.
The EC Braves 12u managed just the three hits but were issued six walks, only one from Elliott. Jack Alexander tripled, drove in a run and scored two to lead the Braves, who averaged almost seven runs in their previous six games.
When it was over, the crown belonged to the Dallas Tigers-Hernandez.
"We've got just an incredible group of families, and to be able to travel with those families and compete week in a week out and getting to all the practices, you couldn't ask for a better group of families to travel with," Polk said. "It's a brotherhood that goes on with these teams, and people don't really understand that once you play and go through adversity together as a group, it changes the whole dynamic.
"Their friendships are deeper, their passion for one another continues to grow and it's irreplaceable. You can't always get that on every team and this is a special group."