Tournaments : : Story
Thursday, July 24, 2014

6-4-3 stepping up when it counts

Sam Brazenas        

EMERSON, Ga. - The competition is intense and the games are getting tight in the playoff rounds of the 2014 WWBA 14u National Championship at Perfect Game Park at LakePoint. The 6-4-3 DP Tigers proved no challenge is too difficult in their 4-2 victory over the San Diego Show in the quarter finals Thursday afternoon.

It was a game full of great plays and beautifully executed baseball for the Tigers. In the bottom of the fourth, the Tigers were down 2-1. A double from Guillermo Granier put him in scoring position for Michael Guldberg who hit a bomb over the left field fence and took the lead.

“He’s definitely somebody who has put a lot of hard work in,” said head coach Matt Hightower about Guldberg. “He’s missed some time from injury and to see him take a quality swing like that and connect in such a big moment, I think that epitomizes the hard work and preparation going into that at bat. Not that results are the thing that we’re looking at, but it’s the accumulation of all his hard work that found its way right there.”

The next inning, the Show tried to retaliate with two singles in a row. With the tie run on third, the Tigers knew it was important to throw him out before he scored. A single to right field was the chance for the Show to tie it up, however, a perfectly executed play by Caleb Bartolero to the cutoff man, allowed Drew Hamrock to throw him out at the plate, ending the Show’s rally.

“It’s actually something we practice quite a bit of; it’s a pet peeve of mine,” said Hightower about the play. “I make all the outfielders either hit their cutoff man in the air in the head or you one hop every base. It’s something we’ve been a stickler for all year and seeing that throw right there it’s not just some magical thing, we’ve actually thrown quite a bit over but it’s from those mistakes that we learn what the little things do. What we did was give our cutoff man a chance to turn and make the play. Not to mention our cutoff man had his footwork right, and that’s where the little things came into making one big play. It was huge, especially with our catcher making sure he just caught, tagged and just slowed the game down.”

It’s not common to steal home, especially in a close game, but in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Tigers took a risk. They successfully stole home and secured themselves a more comfortable lead. This play changed the whole momentum of the game.

“It’s something that we’ve worked on before and the opportunity kind of presented itself late in the ball game when runs were precious,” said Hightower. “With a team like that, no lead is safe. [We were] fighting for every 90 feet you can get and with Drew’s speed over there and the lead that he was getting really helped tremendously. What it boiled down to was kind of an improv situation that we just took a gamble on and it paid off; it worked. The opportunity was there, it was a gamble and it paid off.”

On top of making outstanding plays, it was the defense that really won the game. Robert Bennett spent all seven innings on the mound. After giving up two unearned runs in the first inning, Bennett shut down the Show and didn’t allow any hits with men in scoring position. He only walked one batter and struck out four.

“Robert Bennett has been great for us all year. He’s just such a quality pitcher and I think one of his biggest strengths is his intense focus. His stuff is good and he executes good pitches all the time. He’s not going to come in and try to do anything overly spectacular. I think it’s that consistency that makes him great. That performance right there against an unbelievable San Diego Show team was amazing and he gave us all he had. So that was huge for us,” explained Hightower.

After this big win, the Tigers advanced to the semi-finals to face the Dulin Dodgers. Hightower is focused on the mechanics and fundamentals in order to succeed.

“Once you make it to bracket play in the WWBA, every team is going to be quality, so you just take it on, move forward, and expect to play a tight ballgame,” explained Hightower. “You go in there with a mind set that you’re going to be in a little bit of a dog fight, and it’s going to be intense, and you have to play quality baseball. This is where it ceases to become physical and you just have to execute and do little things right.”

After going undefeated in pool play, enduring a tough win against the Show, and winning the East Cobb Inviational in June, Hightower is confident in his team taking home the title. He believes the chemistry this team has will take them all the way.

“I’ve been fortunate I’ve had these kids for a couple years now, and that helps tremendously when you know and learn what helps each player grow and how you approach each individual kid. The biggest thing I think in time is not the necessarily the ability or the skills, but this team’s strongest trait, is the chemistry they have because they have been together for so long,” explained Hightower. “It’s coming through these gut situations that that chemistry is what prevails. That’s what makes this team tick and go forward.”

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