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Nationals come from bottom bracket to claim HCYBL

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By Tommie Kendall

The Nationals erased four earlier losses to the Renegades with two surprising wins at New Castles field Monday night to claim the championship in the Henry County Youth Baseball Leagues 11- and 12-year-old division.

The Renegades beat the Nationals to win the title last summer, then followed with a perfect season that included four more wins over the Nationals two in the regular season, one in the annual Spring Fling Tournament and one in post-season action that dropped the Nationals to the losers bracket.

Pre-tournament, they proved to be the team to beat, but the Nationals had other plans as they forced a championship-deciding second game Monday with a 16-9 win, then raised the trophy in the air with a 12-8 victory.

The back-and-forth showdown started at 6:15 p.m. and wasnt finished until more than four hours later after 13 innings of play that was filled with big hits, key defensive stops, eight different pitchers taking to the mound, clutch plays and intense moments.

We played some close games with the Renegades during the regular season, but we never could get over the hump, Nationals coach Brent New said the morning after the marathon-like contest. I think it helped that our boys didnt have any pressure on them. There was a lot more pressure on the Renegades than us. After we got off to a good start in game one, we got our confidence up and rolled from there. We had a good time and got the job done.

In game one, the Renegades, coached by Marty Boone, looked to be in position to close out the tournament when they jumped out to an early lead. They opened with three consecutive hits from Blake Isaacs, Dillon Boone and Dylan Adams, with the third scoring Isaacs. Before the Nationals could record a third out, the Renegades had opened up a 4-0 gap.

For the Nationals in the bottom of the first, Landon New led off with a double, and his teammates followed his cue with the first four batters getting on base, including Austin Armstrong, Seth Williams and Ryan Stewart. When the first inning finally came to an end, the Nationals had pulled within one run, 4-3, to set the stage for the drama that was to unfold the following four hours.

The Renegades scored two more runs in the top of the second inning before the Nationals took their first lead in their next bat. With bases loaded, no outs and the top of the lineup coming to the plate, the Nationals started to really lay down the hammer. Williams smacked a two-RBI double to put the Nationals in front, where they would stay for the rest of the night.

The Renegades added one run in each the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. Meanwhile, the Nationals scored six runs in the second, five in the third, and two insurance runs in the fifth for the 16-9 win.

We told our players to have fun, just play ball, and whatever happened, happened, New said. I think it gave us a little advantage playing so relaxed.

After a scoreless first inning in game two, the Nationals, playing visitors this time, scored two runs in the top of the second. Then, in the bottom of the second, the Nationals worked out of a two-on, no-out jam to keep the Renegades off the scoreboard.

In the top of the third, New singled, Armstrong doubled and Williams was walked to load the bases before Stewart smacked a shot down the left-field line for a two-RBI double. The Nationals finished with four runs to go ahead 6-0.

But the Renegades got rolling during their next bat as they chipped away at their deficit. With bases loaded and no outs, Jordan Bright, Isaacs, Boone and Adams all crossed home plate to leave the score at 6-4.

Eventually, off of solid hitting, the Renegades closed the gap to just one run, 8-7, heading into the sixth and final inning. After holding the Nationals to three-up, three-down, Adams led off the inning with a single to put the tying run on first base and the winning run at the plate with no outs. Stephen Archer then hit a double to put two on before the Nationals Chase Howard, who was celebrating his 13th birthday and threw the final five innings of the night, struck out the next two batters. Justin Burgin then hit the ball to the outfield to score Adams, which eventually sent the game into an extra inning to determine the outcome.

The Nationals could have been a bit shaken from the Renegades comeback, but they didnt show it in the top of the seventh as they came out of the dugout swinging. Armstrong and Williams singled to put two on before Stewart hit a deep shot for a triple that scored both players. Howard was walked to put two base runners back on the bags. Later in the inning, with bases loaded, two outs and two strikes, Jason Banta hit a pop fly over the right fielders head for a double that scored the games final two runs, which put the Nationals comfortably ahead, 12-8.

In their final try, the Renegades got two on but couldnt get on the scoreboard again. Boone smacked a two-out triple to try to jump-start a comeback, but the only other teammate to reach base was Adams when he was walked. The Renegades, on the only night they took a defeat in more than a year, came away with the 12-8 loss.

During regular-season play, the Renegades were perfect and came away with the season championship, while the Nationals, who had all four of their losses to the Renegades, finished runners-up. But in the season-ending tournament, the roles were reversed as the Nationals came away with the title and the Renegades were a step behind.

The showdown between these two teams on the baseball diamond Monday night might have made county baseball fans drool at the chance to see these same players together playing at the next level.

I think this 12-and-under group is a very deep group, New said. There was a lot of talent on the field in that game. Theyre a good group of kids, and I think theyll make some noise down the road.

E-mail us about this story at sports@hclocal.com.