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Line Drive Sportz/R&M Metals/Easton based out of Michigan put on a clinic in Houston to open their season outscoring their opponents 207-86 (149-38 in games other than against Albicocco). They went 7-0 to win the 64 team marathon tournament at the Big League Dreams Park in League City, Texas. Line Drive knocked off rival ‘A’ team Albicocco/The Scene/Easton/Elite (NY) in both the winner’s final late on Saturday night 30-23 and again in the finals on Sunday 28-25.
The tournament began on Friday night at 6 PM with 64 teams from 10 different states including 10 Nationwide Conference USSSA teams. Everything went as planned for the conference teams in the first round as they all advanced unscathed, but with each subsequent round the “survive and advance” mentality would pick off 1 or 2 conference teams as the local ‘B’ and ‘C’ teams provided fair competition. In the second round on Friday night local Old School knocked off Above All Landscaping/GWS from New Jersey 26-6 when Old School put up a double figure inning early on and ended the game with a 20 run rule. LA Classic/Worth snuck past Bear Hollow 27-25, and Nightmare/Louisville Slugger came back to beat an always tough Olmito Heat team 18-15. Meanwhile TG Brand, Slattery, Vivid, Joco, ASPnation.com, Team Albicocco, and Line Drive all advanced to the round of 16 easily. Line Drive put up a tournament scoring high of 50 runs in one game, Albicocco a 46, and JOCO put up a 45 runs in the early rounds.
Nightmare takes on Olmito Heat
In the round of 16, TG Brand somehow held Old School from scoring with one out and the game tying run on second and held on to win 22-21 in the bottom of the 7th. In a “logistical” matchup Slattery Logistics held off a feisty and veteran laden J&R Logistics team 24-17. J&R had a number of ex-FBI players like Pennington, Lowrey, and Lance Smith among others. I think I even remember seeing Greg Guess playing. Chill Sports Bar & Grill a Texas non-Conference ‘B’ team knocked off Vivid/Worth/Shirt Doctors 26-15. Vivid had a tough time in the outfield and Chill is Doug Woods team and you know they are always tough. Team Albicocco crushed SportsCenter 46-21, ASPnation made quick work of Klutch/Docs 26-6. Docs had a lot of new faces. Line Drive used a 17 run first to squash Stars from Colorado 29-5 after Stars had put up a 44-37 victory over 3rd Coast the night before. And in the bottom quarter of the bracket Nightmare run ruled fellow Conference team LA Classic and JOCO beat Jokers to advance.
TG Brand holds on to beat OldSchool
In the round of 8, there was only one non-conference team left and that was Doug Wood’s Chill Bar team. Slattery Logistics forced extra innings against TG Brand. There was some controversy when Slattery substituted for their shortstop then substituted for the substitute in the same lineup position, then put the original starter back into the game. After a 10 minute break to find out a ruling it was decided that was legal. Slattery ended up winning 20-18. Team Albicocco knocked off Chills Bar 42-24 after Chills came back about 3 different times. In the lower half of the bracket Nightmare beat JOCO 29-24 in a big ‘B’ Conference matchup (I missed this entire game, not sure the details). And finally in the matchup of the tournament so far, Line Drive beat ASPNation 30-14 after ASP had cut the lead to 16-12 in the top of the 4th inning. The problem with this game is that ASPnation should have been the #4 seed in this event but instead was mis-seeded and had to play a top ‘A’ team in the round of 8 instead of the round of 4. The way the bracket works out with 64 teams, if the #4 seed isn’t properly seeded then there is no way that the 4 best teams can all make the final 4 of the tournament.
In the round of 4, Team Albicocco held down Slattery with the wind blowing in on Crosley field 22-14. Slattery kept Albicocco within range though with a Brady Bascle outfield assist but came up with just a couple of runs in the 5th and 6th innings which really hurt them. And Line Drive Sportz made quick work of Nightmare 19-4 over on Yankee field in the other semi.
Slattery pitcher Chad Loudon and Albicocco pitcher Dan Sanchez dual in the semi-finals
So the winner’s bracket final late on Saturday night was between the top two ‘A’ teams Line Drive and Albicocco. A heavyweight matchup among two teams that I consider to be ‘AA’ caliber. Albicocco put up 5 runs in the top of the 1st but Line Drive came back with 13 runs including two – 3 run homers by Mike Dill in the inning. Line Drive also outscored Albicocco 6-4 in the second inning to take a 19-9 lead. Albicocco opened the door to Line Drive’s big start by fielding the hard grounders but not completing the out, either with a bad throw or a failed catch or scoop at the different bases. I counted 6 miscues of this sort in the game. Albicocco had a big home run advantage and scored 9 runs in the top of the 4th to close the gap to 20-19 but Line Drive answered with 8 runs over the next two innings and won 30-23.
Winner’s final – Albicoccos Phil White (left), and Line Drive celebrates (right)
Teams in the losers bracket finished up around 3:30 AM Sunday morning and there were some great comebacks with both Nightmare coming from a double digit deficit against TG Brand to win 23-22, and Slattery coming from 16 down against SportsCenter to win 31-27.
Then the two teams had to be back at the field for the 8 AM loser’s semi-final! To their credit both teams put on a great effort. Trey Gothard put Nightmare on the board with a 3 run homer in the top of the first. But Slattery took the lead 11-8 in the second inning on a Billy Maggard 3 run homer. Slattery separated in the 3rd inning after they held Nightmare to just 1 run and came in and got a grand slam from pitcher Chad Loudon to take a 17-9 lead. Slattery would win 29-14 advancing to the loser’s final against Albicocco.
Sunday loser’s semi final – Slattery bats against Nightmare
In the loser’s bracket championship game which was the longest game of the tournament, Albicocco came out firing by scoring 14 runs on just 3 homers. But Slattery Logistics answered with 17 runs on 7 homers! In the top of the 2nd Albicocco responded with a bunch of doubles in a row and scored 8 runs to take a 22-17 lead. Then they got Slattery to put up two zero’s in a row in the bottom of the second with 6-10-3 and another doubleplay in the bottom of the third 1-10-3! It was 29-19 Albicocco after 4 complete innings when Slattery got a much needed momentum shift on one of the greatest defensive plays in conference history! Slattery center fielder Colby Hughes with runners on 1st and 2nd with great speed and grace ran down a ball in right center field and made a full out-outstretched diving catch. It may have been the best diving catch of the season. One of those that when you start the full speed dive you actually have no idea if you are going to catch it or not. He did! Then popped to his feet and threw out the runner going back to the bag at second and tagging to third. May have been the best throw I have seen since Matt King threw out a guy from the fence to home in the Maryland Major in 2008. Those that were in Maryland know what I’m talking about. It may have even been better than Hague right fielder Mark Cobb who threw out a runner from the right field fence on a fly to 3rd base in a key situation of the 1994 USSSA “AA” World Tournament, which is still the greatest throw I have ever seen. Even more impressive on this play was that Colby’s momentum on the diving catch was going away from third base towards the right field line in the right centerfield gap! To top it off Slattery made some sort of appeal play saying the runner at first I guess didn’t tag up and they were awarded with a third out. I am not sure how you score that! But Slattery didn’t fully capitalize on the momentum of the great defensive play and Albicocco turned on the offense and beat Slattery 39-22.
Loser bracket finals – Slattery pitching to Albicocco
In the championship game Albicocco took an early lead 7-4 on Line Drive Sportz after 2 innings with the help of a leaping stab by first baseman Terry Baggs and an unassisted double play. But Orlando Castillo’s 3 run homer in the 3rd inning was Albicocco’s last lead as Line Drive turned on the line to line, gap to gap offense they were known for in 2013 and separated from Albicocco and won 30-23.
Championship game – Albicocco lead off man Jason Branch bats against Line Drive pitcher Brendt Newbill
The Big League Dreams fields had all turf infields
The weather was 70 degrees and breezy but nice. The wind in or out on a given field did affect scores and it was in on two of the main fields Yankee and Crosley and out on Fenway.
The ball used was the Thunder Hycor Classic Plus 52 core 275 compression. It was bouncy on the turf and was tough for infielders to adjust to but may have keptwas better to keep the homer’s down some. Midway through the tournament there weren’t many conference balls left so they went to a hot dot. Then on Sunday they went back to the conference ball.
There were no conference umpires in attendance. I know the Arkansas conference crew would have been there but they were working an important charity tournament which happened to be scheduled on the same weekend. I can say as an impartial observer the Texas umpires did a good job. Strike one at times was called a little flat but they had a more than fair strike two and got the majority of close calls right in the field.
The Highest Finishing non-conference team was SportsCenter/Worth. Of course they have been a conference team the last couple years.
The highest Finishing Texas team was Chill Sports and JOCO who both finished tied for 7th.
Article and Picture Credit: DW at Softballcenter.com
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