By Matt Goisman
Three times the Tulsa National All-Stars built slim leads, and three times the Pittsburg County Rage came back to tie the game.
The fourth time around, Tulsa took such a big lead that Pittsburg County just couldn’t come back.
Tulsa sent 14 to the plate and scored eight in the top of the seventh inning, powering the All-Stars to a 17-9 win against the Rage in the inaugural Oklahoma Little League Intermediate 50-70 state championship Saturday at Forche Field in Tulsa.
“It’s the coolest feeling in the world,” Tulsa coach Rick Wells said. “It’s the best ever, but I have to tell you, your hometown team from Pittsburg County is outstanding.”
Tulsa’s Connor O’Malley broke a 9-9 tie in the top of the seventh with a single to the right field wall that scored both Grant Parr and Daniel Bateman. Two batters later, Ike Slayton crushed the first pitch he saw from Rage reliever Jake Edwards well beyond the wall in center field, giving Tulsa a 13-9 lead.
Slayton had also hit a three-run blast in the top of the sixth that put Tulsa up 9-6.
“He’s a man-child,” Wells said of Slayton.
“He hits home runs during the regular season, he’s an outstanding pitcher, throws hard, and he does everything well.”
Edwards came back from Slayton’s second homer to strike out Devin Diehl, but back-to-back-to-back walks loaded the bases, then two more walks put Tulsa up six. O’Malley then delivered his second two-RBI hit of the inning, singling to left for a 17-9 lead.
The sequence highlighted a night in which all five Rage pitchers struggled with their command. First-pitch strikes were hard to come by, and Tulsa drew 15 walks in seven innings.
“They went up there not swinging purposely to make our pitchers throw a strike, and it was frustrating our pitchers,” Rage coach Sam Williamson said. “You get that in your head as a pitcher, you’ve lost it.”
Though giving up two or three runs might not have bothered the Rage, giving up eight runs with just three outs to come back might’ve finally broken the team. Slayton, who came in with the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom of the sixth but escaped giving up just one run, struck out all three Rage batters he faced to end the game.
Of the Rage’s comebacks, its biggest came in the bottom of the sixth. Down 9-6, Gunner Hass led off by drawing a four-pitch walk, then Trevor Stokes singled before Jaxon Rodriguez drove in Hass with a double to right.
Rodriguez hadn’t batted since the bottom of the first, having started on the mound but left with two outs in the top of the second. Like all of his teammates, Rodriguez never found his groove on the mound.
“I’ve grown close to these kids, I love them like my own, and it crushes me to see them in pain,” Rage coach and Jaxon’s father Bob Rodriguez said.
“To see (Jaxon) struggle, you don’t see that from a kid like him too often, but it’s hard.”
After Rodriguez’s double, Christian Hampton drew another walk, then Tulsa reliever David Sandlin beaned Austin Vilar with the bases loaded to force in another run. Hunter Whitaker tied the game 9-9 with a groundout to short.
Vilar’s hit-by-pitch ruined a shot at the cycle. Vilar singled and scored in the first inning, blasted a two-run shot to straightaway center in the third that tied the game 4-4, then tripled to left to start the fifth.
Vilar scored on a groundout by Whitaker in the fifth, finishing the game 3-for-3 with three RBIs and three runs scored. Alton Jones Jr. tied the game 6-6 with a solo home run.
“These kids played their hearts out,” Williamson said. “They deserved to win this game. They played it to 100 percent of their ability, and they gave everything they had on the field and left it there, and it just wasn’t enough.”
Bateman’s single to left scored Parr to put Tulsa up 1-0 in the top of the first. Jaxon Rodriguez tied the game almost single-handedly in the bottom of the first, singling to right, stealing two bases then scoring when the pickoff throw from catcher Matthew Wells sailed into left.
Vilar then singled, went first-to-third on a single by Whitaker, then scored to put the Rage up 2-1 when O’Malley threw the ball away trying to catch Vilar at third.
“We have several 13-year-olds that won’t be here (next year), this was their last game,” Williamson said. “Rhett Regan, Hunter Whitaker, Christian Hampton and Trevor Strokes, they’re 13 years old. A lot of these kids right now, they wanted to win that (game) for them, and I think that will push them over the top, that’ll give them something to strive for.”
Tulsa’s postseason continues at the 50-70 Southwest Regional on Saturday in Grand Junction, Colo.
Pittsburg County Little League will host several state tournaments this week at Deerinwater Field in Krebs, but for the Rage, a Big 13 all-star team that hit well but came up just a pitcher or two short, the season ended in Tulsa.
Contact Matt Goisman at firstname.lastname@example.org.