Having suffered a brutal walk-off loss in its opening contest and with another game just hours away, the Brooksville Bulldogs were primed for a very short stay at the Dixie Baseball Majors (age 17-19) All-Stars World Series.
But the Bulldogs collected themselves and survived the second half of that doubleheader, then rattled off three more wins to reach the championship game before ultimately finishing as the runner-up in Monroe, La.
“We had that game and let it get away from us. The kids knew it,” Bulldogs head coach Bruce Price said. “We spoke after the game. Everybody had 100 percent commitment that we’d take it one game at a time from that point.”
After the scheduled opening day on July 29 was rained out, the Bulldogs took the field the next day and behind the pitching of Pierce Kimbrough held a 3-1 lead over Ozark (Ala.) going into the bottom of the seventh inning. Ozark, though, pushed across three runs in that final frame, tying it up on a squeeze play and scoring the winning run when the Bulldogs couldn’t complete a double play.
The Brooksville-based travel ball squad then squared off with Columbia (Ga.) in the consolation bracket and held on for a 1-0 triumph.
“The Georgia game was very flat for us. We didn’t come out with the energy we had in the first game,” Price said. “But we ended up pulling it out and I think that put things in perspective for us. The next three games we played were very detailed. We just got down to fundamental baseball.”
In another doubleheader on July 31, the Bulldogs first knocked off Marshall (Texas), 9-5. Marshall scored four times in the first inning, but Brooksville rallied with a go-ahead three-run home run by Rafael Reyes and tacked on two more via a triple from Mason Stacy.
Bradley Jarvis tossed a complete game later in the day, in a 9-4 win over Benton (Ark.). That pushed the Bulldogs into a matchup with unbeaten host Monroe on Aug. 1.
Kimbrough was back on the mound against a Monroe club featuring seven Division I college players, and held down the fort while Stacy plated two runs on a single and Reyes smacked a two-run homer. Kimbrough pitched into the seventh before Carlos Torres came on to escape a bases-loaded jam.
That caused a three-way tie at one loss apiece between the Bulldogs, Monroe and three-time defending champion North Charleston (S.C.). Price pulled a piece of paper out of a hat with the word “bye” written on it, assuring his team a spot in the championship tilt.
On Aug. 2, North Charleston downed Monroe, 4-3, then defeated Brooksville in the finale, 5-1.
“I’m very, very pleased,” Price said. “To go that far, lose the first game and play five games, I’ve got to tip my hat to all the kids. It was a huge team effort from everyone.
“We weren’t afraid of (North Charleston). We came out and played our type of baseball. We didn’t lose on errors. They just hit the ball. … I was just very pleased with the enthusiasm, sportsmanship and commitment from every single one of these kids.”
Price figures to lose 6-7 players who will no longer be eligible, but doesn’t have lowered expectations for 2018 after two straight state titles and trips to the World Series.
“We’ll retool, pick up a couple of pitchers,” Price said. “We’ll focus on getting back where we were and hopefully bring a championship home.”
The Bulldogs also had an entry in the Pre-Majors (age 15-16) All-Stars World Series, taking place at the same time in Guntersville, Ala. Brooksville lost 2-0 to Columbia (Ga.), then beat Dyer County (Tenn.), 8-2. Its tournament run ended with a 12-4 loss to North Charleston.
Follow Chris Bernhardt Jr. on Twitter @cpbernhardtjr.