EMERSON, Ga. – Don’t sleep on the 15th seeded Tennessee-based RBI Knoxville Stars to make a potential playoff run in the Perfect Game 15u WWBA National Championship.
After finishing 6-1 in pool play, the Stars started off on the right foot in the opening round of the playoffs Thursday morning with an 8-0 run rule victory over the 18th seeded Gainesville Naturals at Perfect Game Park South at LakePoint.
“Today we just wanted to come out and make sure we got the first ‘W’ and we had one of our best arms fresh,” said RBI Knoxville Stars head coach Nate Headley. “Beamer [David Beam] came out pounding the strike zone. We bunted the ball well. We hit the ball well and moved runners up. We just played the game the right way.”
Runs came in bunches for the Stars, who scored three in the bottom of the third inning, two more in the following innings, and another three in the fifth to end the game after five.
David Beam gave his teammates a break with his lights out performance on the mound, providing five strong shutout innings while giving up just two hits and three walks. He also tallied three strikeouts for RBI Knoxville.
“Beamer’s been our guy from day one,” Headley said. “We know he’s gonna go out there and work fast and execute all three pitches. He’s gonna locate all three pitches: fastball, curveball, changeup. He just competes out there.”
It took Beam just 73 pitches to preserve the win in his second pitching performance of the tournament. He’s accounted for 10 innings on the mound without giving up an earned run while recording an impressive 14 strikeouts. The team ERA (earned run average) sits at 1.54 through 50 innings so far.
“The biggest thing is we’ve been getting extended innings out of our starters,” said Headley. “We can save innings out of our guys and go into bracket play with arms fresh. We expect them to go out there and give us quality outings.”
Beam has also been the fuel that keep the engine running in this RBI Knoxville Stars lineup, leading the team in hits (13), extra-base hits (5), RBI (9), batting average (.542), and on-base percentage (.577).
He helped his own cause with the bat Thursday morning, collecting an RBI base hit and eventually coming around to score.
He’s not the only one that’s been producing with the lumber. Four different Stars have hit .400 or better through eight tournament games: Beam (.542), Clark Poynter (.421), Taylor Lawson (.421), and Evan Porter (.400).
“Beamer, our three-hole hitter, has been fantastic for us,” Headley said. “Everyone’s really done their job, even the bottom of our lineup. Everyone understands their role in the lineup and know when we gotta get a bunt down, whether it’s our three-hole hitter, our four-hole hitter, or whoever it is in the lineup.”
It was Brady Duncan who starred with the wood in Thursday morning’s game, going 2-for-2 with a walk and a run scored, bringing his average for the tournament up to .350.
“Brady’s been hot all tournament,” said Headley. “Brady just gives you quality at-bats. He goes out there and competes his tail off and we know when he’s up there we have a chance to move the baseball, whether he’s gonna ground out or hit a line drive or get a base hit. He puts the ball in play.”
The collective team effort has the Stars sitting on a .335 batting average (67-for-200) with a .438 on-base percentage. Combine that with a staff ERA of 1.54 and it’s hard to lose.
“We’ve swung the bats well,” Headley said. “We’ve got quality arms out there, but we’ve been able to move the base runners, get our bunts down. We’ve just been playing the game the right way; executing small ball when we need to and hitting balls in the gaps when we need to.”
The boys from Knoxville, Tenn. Have taken it to some very quality teams this tournament, with arguably their most impressive win coming against the 6-1 Chain Stealth. RBI Knoxville was able to put up four runs off of 11 hits, while holding an uber talented Chain Stealth team to just one run on four hits.
“We battle, we don’t have a lot of guys out there compared to a lot of other teams,” said Headley. “We don’t have any pitcher-only guys so we gotta make sure we get all the innings out of our guys that we possibly can and they just fight, they battle, they don’t give up.”
Before they were RBI Knoxville it was two separate organizations: RBI Baseball and the Knoxville Stars. Headley talked about the way both programs would constantly go back and forth when playing against each other and they decided in order to compete at the national level it would make most sense to combine the two, hence you have the RBI Knoxville Stars.
“The Knoxville Stars is an organization that’s been around for 20-plus years,” Headley said. “We combined with them a couple years ago and just brought this group together. It felt like it was the right fit and so far, so good. We’ve had most of this group together since they were 13 and it’s just a good group of guys with great camaraderie.”
Headley said they practice out of a 25,000-sq. ft. indoor facility in Knoxville, along with 29 other baseball and softball teams in the organization. They used to operate under the former Knoxville Yard facility, in which the likes of minor league players Bryce Brentz and Chad Bell would train at.
Players are drawn to the RBI Knoxville Stars because of the reputable coaching staff the organization has.
“We’ve got about seven or eight guys that have played Division I baseball or pro ball,” said Headley. “We’ve just got guys that really care about the game, understand the game at the highest level, and they really care about the kids.”
Certainly the elite instruction the RBI Knoxville Stars can offer kids has translated into producing some excellent talents.
“We’ve probably got about 16 or 17 guys in pro ball and a couple of guys close to the big leagues,” said Headley. “I coached at the University of Tennessee, so a lot of the guys played for me before then.”
There are no egos on this RBI Knoxville Stars team. Nobody stands out above the rest and nobody believes they are better than one another. The RBI Knoxville Stars define ‘team’ and truly play a complete team game, which translates to a lot of wins.
“I think the biggest thing is making adjustments and understanding your roll in certain situations,” Headley said. “Nobody wants to go up there and get a bunt sign or a hit and run sign, but guys understand that in certain situations we’re gonna have to do what we need to do to go out and get a ‘W’.”
The Stars will face a competitive USA Elite Baseball Red team Thursday afternoon in the next round of the playoffs, but if they continue to play unselfish baseball then you can’t count out the gritty club from Knoxville.