Cardinals Sweep Field to Win Nation’s Most Prestigious Fall Event
The Virginia Cardinals won eight straight games at Perfect Game’s 2014 fall 17u World Wood Bat Association championship tournament over Columbus Day Weekend (October 10-13), dominating the field en route to hoisting the championship trophy inside the Boston Red Sox’s spring training stadium in Ft. Myers, Florida.
While many events claim to be national or even world championship events, PG’s annual tourney in Ft. Myers is widely recognized as the one true fall championship event, drawing teams from coast to coast as well as from Puerto Rico and Canada. Though hundreds more applied to the event, 216 teams qualified to begin the competition. By the end of the event, the Cardinals stood tall atop the heap.
The tourney was organized into 54 pools of 4 teams each, so that each team had 3 games to play in an effort to qualify for the single-elimination playoff rounds. Starting play at the Red Sox’s spring training facilities, the Cardinals invoked the slaughter rule in their Friday opener with a 10-0 win over the Orlando Scorpions Underclass team, with starting pitcher Grey Lyttle earning the win with 4 innings of one-hit, shutout work. Lyttle notched 8 strikeouts while allowing no walks. Justin Sorokowski closed the game with a perfect inning and 2 K’s of his own. John Gregory’s 2 hit, 2 RBI game heralded a strong tournament performance for him, while the Cardinals generally used pressure offense to harass the Scorpions from start to finish.
Saturday’s Game 2 was a classic nail biter, a 1-0 victory over the Brevard (FL) Aces. Robert Fultineer was the star in this one, hurling a complete game shutout in which he allowed only 4 hits and 1 walk. The Cardinals pushed across the game’s lone run on a squeeze bunt by Cayman Richardson, scoring Jacob Bartlett, who had led off the inning with a hit, then stolen second and taken third on a throwing error. The Aces had their own key bunting opportunity after a leadoff double threatened a tie in the 7th, but Fultineer struck out the batter attempting to sacrifice, paving the way out of the threat without damage.
Feeling confident, the Cardinals steamrolled the Rawlings Hitters in a 14-2 victory later Saturday afternoon. Jackson Rivera held off the Wisconsin natives, while the Cardinals scored early and often. Aaron Robinson, the Cardinals’ only sophomore player for this tourney, had the big blow with a bases-clearing double while John Gregory went 3-for-3. With Vinnie Pasquantino, Justin Sorokowski and Jacob Long also getting 2 hits each, the team went an astonishing 15-for-22 overall in this one.
Their pool play record not only qualified the Cardinals for the playoffs, but as the # 6 seed for those rounds – qualifying for one of only ten byes awarded. This allowed the Cardinals the opportunity to advance to Monday’s quarterfinals if they could win only two games on Sunday, and they took full advantage of having Sunday morning off.
Playing at the Minnesota Twins’ spring training facility, the Cardinals arrived to find the Ohio Elite finishing off a pounding of its first round opponent. While they remained feisty as the matchup began, Noah Murdock held Ohio to 2 runs over 4 innings. Ohio’s starting pitcher tamed the Cards for four innings, but when he opened the fifth inning with a leadoff walk, he became rattled, making an errant throw on Jacob Long’s sacrifice bunt. Mitch Carmody followed with an RBI single that also advanced Long to third, before Steven Carpenter drove a deep sacrifice fly to center to knot the score. Lefty reliever John Gregory shut down Ohio for the next three innings, forcing an 8th inning that invoked the tournament’s peculiar tie-breaking procedure – each inning starting with a bases-loaded, one out situation. Ohio managed one RBI single before Gregory ended the threat with a swinging strikeout. In the bottom of the 8th, Justin Sorokowski’s deep drive down the right field line was reeled in, but scored the tying run. After an intentional walk to Vinnie Pasquantino re-loaded the bases, Henry Moore lined the very next pitch past a diving left fielder to win the game in thrilling fashion.
Compared to that heart pounder, the remaining path to the championship was stress free. At historic Terry Park (former spring training facility of the Pirates and other MLB teams), the Cardinals spotted Gallagher Team Mizuno (New Jersey) 2 runs in the top of the 1st before storming back for 4 in the bottom to take a lead they never relinquished en route to a 9-3 decision. Every hitter in the Cardinals’ lineup had at least one hit or a sacrifice fly to contribute to the total team effort. Steven Carpenter’s leadoff hit on the first pitch of the bottom of the first got things rolling, and Carpenter later hurled three shutout innings in relief of winning starter Khalil Lee to earn the save.
Starting the Monday morning quarterfinal game back at the Red Sox complex, Sorokowski threw 7 shutout innings, notching 12 K’s and allowing only 2 singles (one erased on a double play) and no walks. Though they scored only three runs themselves, the Cardinals led throughout and never faced a threat from the Texas Stix, led by Texas Tech commit Ulysses Cantu. As the game’s first batter, Steven Carpenter drove an 89 mph fastball over the right fielder’s head to set the tone, then came around to score when the Stix’s first baseman muffed a Pasquantino grounder. Cayman Richardson’s RBI hit in the 5th and another error-produced run in the 7th gave Sorokowski all the breathing room he would need.
Grey Lyttle returned to the mound for his second start of the tourney in the semifinal against the Charlotte Megastars, and followed Sorokowski’s lead by hurling a shutout of his own, allowing only 1 hit and 2 walks over 5 innings of work. Lead-off man Carpenter again got the Cardinals an early run, walking and then scoring on a surprise safety squeeze from cleanup hitter Pasquantino. The Cardinals broke it open with 3 runs in each of the third and fourth innings before a Carpenter RBI hit in the 5th invoked the slaughter rule for an 8-0 victory. In addition to Carpenter; Richardson, Sorokowski and Carmody led the offense with 2 hits each.
That win punched the team’s ticket inside JetBlue Stadium, or Fenway South as it is known to Red Sox fans, for the championship game. It bears noting that although only 25% of the tourney’s teams made it to the playoff rounds, 6 of 11 Virginia-based teams made it that far. Thus, it was only appropriate that the Cardinals’ opponent in the finale was a familiar foe, the state rival Richmond Braves.
Enjoying the professional setting, the Cardinals pounced to lead off the game once again. Carpenter walked, Richardson singled, and both would score on RBI hits by Pasquantino and Gregory. Pasquantino’s second hit would put him aboard in the third, leading to another run on a Braves balk, and giving him, as the Cardinals’ starting pitcher, a 3-0 lead.
After cruising through three innings, Pasquantino got some fight back from the Braves, as a 2-run homer over the “little green monster” wall in left closed the score to 3-2. After two more Braves got aboard, John Gregory got the call to take the mound with no prior bullpen warmup. Though his first pitch resulted in a single to load the bases with only one out, Gregory then struck out the next two hitters to escape the jam.
If the Braves felt they were back in it, that feeling did not last for long, because the Cardinals put 6 runs on the board in their next at bat to break away. Once again it was Carpenter getting things started with a leadoff hit, after which a succession of Braves pitchers could not seem to find the strike zone. After the Cardinals got one more run in the 6th to reach the 8-run slaughter rule mark, Gregory concluded his dominating relief win with a perfect inning and a game-ending, swinging strikeout.
Pitcher Grey Lyttle was honored after the game as the tourney’s Most Valuable Pitcher for his two wins on 9 shutout innings, 9 K’s, with only 2 hits and 2 walks allowed. But he probably only narrowly edged out teammates Sorokowski, Fultineer and Gregory for the honor. Sorokowski totaled 8 shutout innings, 14 K’s, 2 singles allowed, and no walks at all. He faced only one batter over the minimum (25 hitters for 24 outs, as one hitter was erased on a double play grounder). Fultineer’s pool play performance was crucial to the team’s even advancing to the playoff rounds. And Gregory’s two relief performances earned him two wins on no runs allowed, with 7 K’s and no walks in 6 1/3 innings of work.
All four of those Cardinals made the all-tournament team as pitchers. Eight members of the Cardinals’ offensive lineup also made that team, with Gregory and Sorokowski earning double honors, while Bartlett, Carpenter, Long, Moore, Richardson and Carmody all joined them.
But in the end, it may well have been the Cardinals’ stellar defense that carried them through. The team was charged with only two errors in 8 games, and both of those base runners were later erased on 2 of the team’s 8 double plays turned. Absolutely no unearned runs were allowed, an unheard of performance at the high school level. The team’s defensive average was a stellar .991.
That defensive domination complemented the Cardinals’ pitching and offense. The team outscored its 8 opponents 59-10 (an average score of roughly 7 to 1); outhit them .371 to .204; and its ten pitchers ended the tourney with a sparkling 1.29 team ERA. Four of the eight wins were by shutout, and four were shortened by the slaughter rule.
truly a team effort, one that highlighted both the depth of the
Cardinals’ lineup, the depth of its pitching, and its signature scrappy
play on both defense and offense.
This championship will be remembered for as long as the Cardinals are around!!