The Fuelco Yankees had used heavy-hitting George Hartford as a pinch hitter throughout the season, hoping he'd club one far enough away to allow him to limp, with his broken right leg, to first base. At tournament time, though, coach Tom Vicini decided to make him his starting first baseman, hoping his production at the plate would overshadow his defensive liabilities.
What Vicini never figured, though, is that Hartford, who could barely walk back and forth from the dugout to the field between innings, would turn the double play that sealed a 9-8 extra-inning win over the ARH Braves in Saturday's Tri-City Little League championship game.
"I know God had a hand in George making that play," Vicini said.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Braves had tying run on third and the winning run on second with one out and Braxton Fields, who had brought in the Braves' last two runs with a two-RBI single, at the plate. This time, Fields hit a grounder right to Hartford, who was standing on first. Hartford picked the ball up, thus forcing Fields out, and gunned the ball to home, where catcher Robbie Holcomb tagged out T.J. Smith to end the game.
"It's probably one of the greatest Little League games I've even been involved in or seen," Vicini said.
Indeed, Hartford's heroics were just the conclusion to a wild, back-and-forth tussle that included more than its share of storylines.
The Yankees seemed poised to blow the game apart early, as they scored five runs in their first two innings. In all, the Yankees had 10 hits a double by Garland, two singles each by Kyle Hogue and pinch-hitter James Phillips, and singles by Paul David Creech, Chris Cress, Daniel Patterson and Hartford.
Meanwhile pitcher Jared Garland retired the Braves 1-2-3 in the first as the Yankees built a 5-0 lead.
The Braves, however, batted around for six runs in the bottom of the second, keyed by four consecutive walks and two of Zach Blanton's three doubles on the day. Rutherford also got the first of his three singles in the inning.
Blanton then returned to the mound and began to settle down, limiting the Yankees to only three more runs until he was relieved in the seventh.
"He gives his all every game," Braves coach Tommy Jenkins said.
Blanton was at the precipice of scoring the winning run with the score tied 8-8 in the bottom of the sixth. Blanton doubled to lead off the inning and advanced to third on a pitch in the dirt. However, Yankees' reliever Paul David Creech stopped Blanton and the Braves right in their tracks, striking out the next three batters to force the game into the extra frame.
Creech then took the mantle and ran with it. In the top of the seventh, he reached on an error, took second on a passed ball and third on a wild pitch. He then scored what became the winning run on another error in center field.
"We struggled in the field," Jenkins said of his team, which committed 10 errors. "We just didn't make some of the plays."
Though the sting of a close loss left the Braves despondent, both Vicini and Jenkins agreed the team should feel no shame.
"Their team just played the best I've seen all year," Vicini said.
"I'll just tell them I was proud of them," Jenkins said.
Yankees 232 010 1 9 9 3
Braves 062 000 0 8 7 10
Garland, Hogue (3), Creech (4) and Holcomb; Blanton, Rutherford (7) and Cornett. WCreech. LRutherford.
Trevor Long and Arron Garland homered to power the Reds to a 15-3 win over the Astros in the Minor League division championship game.
Garland also added two singles while Cole Wilson had a triple, double and single. Blake Rutherford had a double and two singles. Dalton Franks had a triple and a single, and Lauren Hogue added a single.
The Astros collected all of their hits in the first inning. They were led by Bradley Deal and Eddie Conley, who both doubled, and Jacob Cornett and Tyler Cornett, who had a single apiece.
Winning pitcher Kelsey Day pounded out a grand slam and four singles to propel the Angels past the Rockies for the inaugural Tri-City softball championship.
Kayln Carruba added three singles for the champions while Erica Garland had one single.
Samantha Sexton led the Rockies with two singles, while Natasha Pennington also had a single despite taking the loss on the mound. Colleen Boggs, Stacy House and Kelsy Combs also had a single apiece.