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Tournaments | Story | 7/29/2015

'Tiger Magic' leads to 16u title

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

EMERSON, Ga. – In the top of the seventh inning during Wednesday morning’s championship game at the 16u Perfect Game World Series, a Dallas Tigers fan – most likely a parent – could be seen pacing, clapping and, perhaps most obviously, smiling widely while gleefully shouting out the words “Tiger Magic” to an appreciative crowd.

His enthusiastic exultation may have summarized the story of this PG national championship tournament better than any other two words possibly could.

The top-seeded Dallas Tigers (9-1-0) overcame a one-run, fifth-inning deficit with three runs in each of the sixth and seventh innings and glided to an 8-3 victory over No. 4 Team Elite (6-3-0) in the 16u PG World Series’ title game played at Perfect Game Park South at LakePoint.

The championship game victory capped a magical run for the Tigers, who dropped into the double-elimination tournament’s loser’s bracket after losing their first playoff game and then won five straight in less than 48 hours to take home the PG national championship trophy.

“When we first talked about it, we said we’re the most mentally strong team here,” the Tigers’ Elijah Davis said post-championship game, referring to a conversation he had with PG earlier in the week. “A lot of teams, after they lose their first game in bracket-play, they’re usually done, but our mental side is what made us the best team in the nation.”

The Tigers were in a familiar spot in the title tilt, trailing 3-2 with two innings left to play. In other words, they had the Elite right where they wanted them. Christian Ross Cadena hit a one-out, two-run home run as part of a three-run sixth inning and added an RBI double in the three-run seventh to push the Tigers over the top; Mark Ready delivered an RBI double and Canaan Smith an RBI single in the seventh.

2017 right-handers Zachary DeLoach and Ryan Vilade kept Team Elite in check, combining on a five-strikeout three-hitter; The Elite’s Pat DeMarco doubled and drove in two runs to highlight their offensive output. Vilade was on the hill to record the final out and was soon on the bottom of a pitcher’s mound dogpile.

Tigers head coach Kyle Woods described this group a “true team” and a bunch of “fighters” who throughout this run always had each other’s backs. He used the words “brothers” and “family” when talking about a team that showed in the end it was the best of any in this premier 25-team field.

“We never gave up, never gave in, even when we had to fight through the loser’s bracket and play extra games with no pitchers at all,” he said. “Everybody on the whole team contributed. We had guys step-up with big hits, we had guys step-up on the mound, and we came out on top.”

Davis, a diminutive 5-foot-9, 140-pound 2017 left-hander and outfielder from Shawnee, Okla., who has committed to Kansas, enjoyed an extraordinary tournament and was named the Most Valuable Player as a result.

He made four pitching appearances, went 1-0 with a save, and allowed three earned runs in 17 2/3 innings (1.19 ERA) on nine hits, with 20 strikeouts and seven walks. At the plate, he was 10-for-25 (.400) with a double, triple, three RBI, four runs scored and a .464 on-base percentage.

“During the first two games I wasn’t really feeling like myself when I was up to bat, but everything else felt great; I had a lot of confidence,” Davis said, adding that he always seem to be at his best when he’s playing against the best competition available. “It brings out that bulldog inside of me and really helps me. I love pitching against (great teams) because they don’t think I’m anything – I’m a little guy.”

At least three other Tigers turned in MVP-type performances at the plate. DeLoach, (a Texas A&M commit) went 13-for-35 (.371) with six doubles, seven RBI and eight runs; Vilade (Oklahoma State) was 11-for-32 (.344) with six doubles, five RBI and six runs and Smith (Arkansas) was 9-for-30 (.302) with a home run, seven RBI and eight runs. All of those performances led to the championship, something that didn’t necessarily surprise the confident Davis.

“We thought that we were the most underrated team (coming in) and we thought that we could beat everybody in this tournament,” he said. “We really thought it would be us (winning the championship) right from the beginning.”

Team Elite 2016 left-hander Connor Thomas, a Georgia Tech commit from Omega, Ga., was named the Most Valuable Pitcher. Thomas made two appearances and went 2-0, and didn’t allow an earned run on four hits while striking out eight and walking two in 10 innings of work.

Three Team Elite hitters stood out at the plate: Tyler Keenan was 10-for-22 (.455) with five doubles, five RBI and four runs; Colin Hall went 9-for-28 (.321) with two doubles, a home run, eight ribbies and seven runs; and DeMarco (Vanderbilt) matched that 9-for-28 effort with a double, triple, seven RBI and four runs.

Playing in the tournament’s National Division, the Tigers earned the playoffs No. 1-seed after posting three comeback victories and finishing pool-play undefeated at 4-0. They then took the most difficult path possible to the championship game by dropping into the loser’s bracket after a 5-4 loss to the No. 8 Florida Burn in the playoff’s first round. A difficult loss, to be sure, but not devastating.

“All we said was, ‘Hey, we still have baseball left,” Woods said of what he told the team after the loss. “It was pretty simple and I kind of felt like we were OK; we weren’t giving in. No one panicked, and that was the biggest thing we talked about all week long. Don’t panic, because the outcome of the game will handle itself. Just play the full game until the umpire tells you to stop and we’ll see who’s on top.”

The Tigers kept their hopes alive by downing No. 5 Marucci Elite, 5-3, in their first elimination game on Monday, which set the stage for what turned out to be a three-game marathon on Tuesday, with the Tigers coming out on top each time.

Daniel Martinez and Davis combined to pitch a two-hitter without giving up an earned run in a 2-1 win over the pesky Florida Burn, launching Dallas into the semifinals against the No. 7 Dirtbags, who came out of the winner’s bracket.

The Dirtbags struck for three runs in the bottom of the first inning off Tigers’ starter William Adair, but Adair settled down and he and Russell Smith combined to pitch six straight shutout innings in the Tigers’ 6-3 win, which forced and “if necessary” second semifinal game.

Davis was the star of the show in this one, pitching a complete-game three-hitter and striking out 13 without giving up an earned run, and was also 3-for-3 with two RBI in the Tigers’ 7-2 win; DeLoach was 2-for-4 with a double and two RBI.

Team Elite’s march to the championship game wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the Tigers’ but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have its moments while playing many of the same teams the Tigers faced.

The Elite won their pool with a 3-1 mark and earned the No. 4 seed, and promptly won its first two playoff games Monday: 10-2 over No. 5 Marucci Elite and 2-1 over the No. 8 Florida Burn. Those wins made them the American Division’s winner’s bracket representative in the semifinal round where they faced the No. 6 EvoShield Canes.

The Canes rose up and forced the “if necessary” game with a 12-3 rout of Team Elite in the first elimination semifinal. Thomas was handed the ball for the deciding game and responded with a complete-game two-hitter in Team Elite’s 4-0 win. The Elite had eight hits in the win and five of them were doubles from DeMarco, Keenan, Morgan Copeland, Ivan Johnson and Sam Hall.

So now it remains to be seen if there will be enough “Tiger Magic” remaining in the tank to earn the Dallas Tigers an invitation to next year’s 17u Perfect Game World Series out in the Phoenix Metro Area’s West Valley. Can it happen?

“Absolutely. That’s the plan, absolutely,” Woods said. “We won’t get rid of any guys – we’re a family and a lot of these guys have been playing together since they were 9 and 10 years old – so they’re not going anywhere.”


2015 16u Perfect Game World Series runner-up: Team Elite



2015 16u Perfect Game World Series MVP: Elijah Davis




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