Teams came from all across the country to play in the 12u Super25 National Championship in Charleston, South Carolina, but it was the local East Coast Bombers who ended up winning the title, beating the Home Plate Chilidogs (Sharpsburg, GA) in dramatic fashion.
Throughout the tournament, the Bombers and the Chilidogs proved themselves as the two best teams in the field.
Home Plate exhibited it’s offensive prowess throughout the week, scoring at least 10 runs in all but one of their games while going undefeated during pool play. Their roster was loaded with great athletes who already have a very advanced knowledge of the game. Joseph Eichelberger, Elijah Hilton, Evan Eskew, Cameron Foster and Alan Fluellen were especially impressive, and the Chilidogs lineup top-to-bottom was full of players who were threats at the plate.
The Bombers were led by on offense and on the mound by Geoffrey Gilbert. Gilbert, who already plays for his high school’s varsity team (Bishop England), started the tournament off with a bang. He threw a no-hitter in the week’s first game, striking out 16 batters in six innings while just walking one against a very solid EAB team. He’s already 5’10” and very athletic with room to grow, and he sits in the upper-70s with his fastball while touching the lower-80s on occasion.
After the no-hitter, Gilbert was the talk of the tournament. Because Gilbert pitched in the first game of the tournament, he was well-rested and would be available to start in the championship game if the Bombers made it. As the week progressed and it became a clear possibility that the Bombers and Chilidogs could play each other in the championship, many attending the tournament—myself included—were hoping for the chance to see Gilbert take on the vaunted Home Plate offense. That hope came to fruition on Tuesday, and the game met all the expectations and became an instant classic
Coming into the game, Bombers coach Randy Carlson understood that beating Home Plate would be a tough task, but preached to his players that they needed to focus on what they brought to the table. “My biggest thing was if we can take care of the small things—make sure we’re hustling on and off the field and make sure taking care of our focus—we’d be okay. We know we can’t control who we play and the level of play of our opponents, we just try to make sure we take care of what we can control.”
Gilbert’s fastball had the same life on it as it did during his no-hitter, as he sat in the upper-70s throughout the game. He was touched up for a run in the first inning due to a walk and a defensive miscue on a hard-hit ball by Eskew, but from that point on, he settled into the game and was unhittable throughout the rest of his start.
Gilbert also led the Bombers at the plate. He hit a huge opposite-field double in the first inning, and was responsible for driving in the Bombers first run with an RBI single.
Eichelberger started on the hill for the Chilidogs and was equally as great as Gilbert. A right-hander, he sat in the mid-70s with his fastball, and he was able to locate it well with movement while mixing in his secondary pitches.
Eichelberger left the game after four innings and Gilbert left after five, and the game entered the sixth inning still tied at 1-1. Jordan Mitchell came in relief for the Chilidogs and was just as effective as Eichelberger in shutting down the Bombers offense.
Bryce Brown came in for Gilbert and had big shoes to fill, and he did so seamlessly as he held down the Chilidogs for three innings. Brown ran into some trouble in the bottom of the sixth inning, getting into a bases-loaded jam with just one out. He then proceeded to shut down two of Home Plate’s best hitters with the game on the line, striking out Hilton and getting Foster to fly out.
The pitching continued to dominate the game until the top of the eighth inning when the Bombers finally broke out against Mitchell. Jett Kirshtein led off the inning with a two-strike single to left field. He then stole second base, and after Gilbert was intentionally walked, he stole third as well. Brown knocked him in with a sacrifice fly, and Gilbert scored as well after an errant throw, putting the Bombers up 3-1.
Brown came in and shut the door in the bottom of the eighth, completing his three innings of relief with six strikeouts. Brown sealed the championship by keeping the Bombers in the game on the mound and knocking in the game-winning run. On the mound, Brown said, “I was nervous, I knew these kids could hit the ball. I just lived on the corners and tried to throw it in the zone.” That simple strategy led to great success for the young Bomber.
Coach Carlson loved what he saw from Brown on the mound. “Bryce was fantastic,” he said. “What guts it took for him to get out of that bases-loaded one out jam in the bottom of the sixth. He’s a big kid, great arm and can swing the bat. The thing Bryce fights himself with sometimes is not realizing how good he is and how good he can be. To see him overcome that hurdle and believe in himself and get out of that jam, it was amazing. Home Plate has a fantastic offense, and to hold them down for the three innings like he did, that was incredible.”
The Bombers couldn’t have won the championship without Brown and Gilbert’s combined effort on the mound. After the game, Gilbert and Brown exchanged words around home plate. “I’ve known Bryce since he was three years old,” Gilbert said. “I just told him thanks for backing me up, he did a great job.”
Gilbert understood the challenge the Bombers faced when they entered the day having to deal with a team as good as Home Plate. “They’re a wonderful team, it was so tough,” he said.” I knew going in it was going to be a tough game; it was going to be a battle back-and-forth. I knew I had it within myself to shut them down, and I knew their pitcher could shut us down.”
It was clear in speaking to coach Carlson that he was happy to have a player like Gilbert on his team, but even happier to have a kid with his makeup. “Geoffrey is a fantastic talent,” he said. “The greatest thing about Geoffrey is he’s a fantastic talent, but he’s a great kid. He works his tail off, is a great student, and a great teammate. A lot of guys when they’re that talented, they tend to get a lot of ego and separate themselves from the group. He does a great job of not getting caught up in the fanfare. He just keeps working hard, he has that tunnel vision to look forward and keep working hard. He’s just a great kid.”
While Gilbert could possibly have gone further into the game, Carlson’s combination of faith in his team as a whole as well as his focus on his players’ futures led him to take out Gilbert after five innings. “Geoffrey’s pitch count had gotten up to 76, and having thrown on Friday and getting three days off, I really didn’t want to go more than 80 with him. It was a hard decision, and I probably had some people upset with me for taking him out, but we don’t do this with one guy, we have to do with it all 11 guys on the team. I told them before the last inning that if we believe in each other, we’ll get it done, and they did. It’s a credit to them.”
Gilbert and Brown were stars during the championship, but the Bombers have a complete team and wouldn’t have won the title if it weren’t for their deep roster. “We had contributions from everybody,” Carlson said. “Stephen Holderness threw great for us, Vince Smith did a lot of great things, Jett Kirshtein with the leadoff base hit with two strikes off a breaking ball to start the winning rally. You can’t win things like the Super25 championship without everybody in the program contributing one way or another. I told them after they won how great of a job everybody did to do something to contribute, whether it was moving over a runner, getting an inning or two on the mound, making a defensive play, or stealing a base. Everybody contributed and that’s why we’re at where we’re at right now.”
The Bombers came into the 12u Super25 Championship with a tough road ahead of them, but they battled adversity and conquered every obstacle in front of them. They recovered after losing two games the day prior to the championship—including an 11-3 loss to Home Plate—to come away with the title.
The Bombers not only proved themselves as an elite program this week, but they also represented what the Super25 series is truly about, players coming together as a team in order to achieve greatness.