It was unlike any run I have ever been a part of. This group of young men showed incredible resolve and grit and have been justly rewarded with the title of Triple Crown National Champions.
After cruising through pool play with a perfect 3-0 record the Cardinals secured the #1 overall seed and were looking to roll on through bracket play. The baseball Gods had other plans. The Cardinals took a 2-1 lead into the 7th inning of the 1 v 16 match-up against the All-Pro Rebels from Hartford, CT and were unable to seal the deal. A fumble on the 21st out led to a tie game and the Cardinals inability to score the winning run in their half of the 7th with the bases loaded and nobody out seemed to foreshadow what was to come. The Rebels pushed one across in the extra inning and the Cardinals once again squandered a bases loaded opportunity in their half of the 8th to fall by a final of 3-2.
Now faced with an epic climb through the losers bracket the Cardinals would have to rely on their unparalleled pitching depth but had little margin for error. In order to win this title they would have to win 8 games in 3 days.
First up was the East Coast Titans from NJ. Nick Roth (Benedictine) spun a masterpiece and carried a no-hitter into the 7th inning before thwarting a small dust-up and sealing the deal, earning the Cardinals another game with his 4-1 win.
Next up was the 2 seed RVA Phillies who had also stumbled in bracket play that morning. Nathan Trevillian (Amherst County) dominated the whole way, tossing a CG on only 70 pitches to take the Cardinals into Thursday and their first of two days where they would have to win 3 games in a day to stay alive.
With 6 games to win in 2 days the Cardinals took the field at RF&P again and faced off with the Central Ct Select. Jake Huggins (Cosby) tossed 5 strong innings as the Cardinals mounted a 6-0 lead heading into the 6th. Some timely hitting and a few walks chased Huggins and turned what was a snoozer into a dog-fight as the Select scored 6 in the inning to knot the score. The Cardinals would regain the lead on a dramatic straight steal of Home by Nick Butts (Manchester) with 2 outs in the bottom frame. Johnny Gregory (Hanover) came on to shut it down in the 7th to seal the deal and earn the Cardiac Cardinals another game.
The 1pm game brought about the opportunity to avenge the earlier loss to the All-Pro Rebels. Vinnie Pasquantino (James River) spun a gem and Johnny Gregory (Hanover) closed the 7th again for his second save of the day in the Cardinals nail-biting 2-1 win.
The final game of the day pitted the Cardinals against the Virginia Swamp Things who were coming off of a championship of their own in the USBC 18U tournament the previous week. Noah Murdock (Colonial Heights) toed the rubber and led the Cardinals to a 5-2 lead heading into the 7th. Once again, the end would not be short on drama as the SwampThings managed to load the bases with no one out. After a walk forced in a run and closed the game to a 5-3 stress-fest - Adam Trice (Lee Davis) saved the Cardinals bacon by striking out back to back batters and getting the final out on a sportcenter worthy sliding catch by Johnny Gregory deep down the RF line in foul territory. The Cardinals would make it to the final day.
The Championship round moved to Pitt Field on the campus of U of Richmond. The Cardinals would face off with A's Nation out of New Jersey. The Cardinals found their stride offensively as they finally put some distance between themselves and the opponent with an 8-3 victory in support of the strong pitching efforts of AJ Stead (Eastern View) and Nick Butts (Manchester).
Heading into the finals against the CT Blue Jays the Cardinals would have to dig deep and find enough pitching to upend a team that only had to play 6 games to get there against the Cardinals 10. They found that pitching in 2-way standouts Justin Sorokowski (Lee Davis) and Steven Carpenter (New Kent). Both young men spun complete game gems and did so in fewer than 80 pitches respectively. Sorokowski won the first game 6-2 to force the "if" game and Carpenter was magnificent in the finale with his 7-1 win after they swapped their P and 3B positions.
Offensive standouts were up and down the roster. Every single player had major contributions at the plate and on the basepaths - including 5 steals of home throughout the tournament (3 in the final 2 games vs the Blue Jays). Reid Leonard (Benedictine) and Cayman Richardson (Hanover) were stellar in the middle infield throughout a grueling week while Eric Sloper (Patriot) played an incredible CF in addition to sparking the offense in many of the close games. Henry Moore (Atlee) and Andrew Llewellyn (Powhatan) deserve as much credit as the entire pitching staff when we consider the fact that they called nearly every pitch of every game. Huggins in RF, Butts in LF and Pasquantino and Gregory holding down 1B duties rounded out the Cardinal defense that did a tremendous job holding teams to 3 outs an inning and robbing many hits along the way.
It was an amazing effort by an amazing group of young men. They are by far the youngest team we have ever had (7 players aged 17, 8 were 16 and 2 were 15) but they won more games than any Cardinal team in history. They also had a higher winning percentage than any Cardinal team in history. It was my pleasure and honor to have been a part of it and to have coached them this past year.