AUBURNDALE, FLORIDA - Saturday, May 6, 2017:
The Northside Falcons (Conroe, TX) finished off their amazing 2017 season with six straight wins at the Homeschool World Series Tournament in Auburndale, Florida to capture the championship and bring home the Cochran Cup for the first time in the program's history.
After a dominant regular season against public school, private school and homeschool teams, the Falcons (31-2) took their show on the road as twenty teams from around the country converged on this Orlando-area town to determine the best homeschool baseball team in the country. Representing programs from as far away as Wisconsin, the tournament also featured teams from Georgia, Michigan, Missouri (2), North Carolina (2), Oklahoma (2), Tennessee (2), Texas (8), and Virginia.
Monday, May 1 - Pool Play
It may seem strange to travel a thousand miles and then play a game against a team that hosts its home games at the same park that you do, but such is the nature of the pool play draw. Our first matchup was against cross-town rivals, the Spring Mustangs. The Mustangs had struggled a bit during the regular season due to injuries, but they were healthy now and Falcons coach Shelby Thomas knew better than to take them lightly. Thomas started his big lefty, senior Christian Springfield, who was able to hold the Mustangs to just three runs (two earned) over four innings, giving up one hit while striking out six batters and walking three. Senior Jacob Slaten started for the Mustangs and Connor Christian contributed two hits. But it would not be enough as the Falcons scored nine, including two off of a monster home run* by junior Oscar Kanada. Senior Rene Ramirez closed out the game for the Falcons, pitching two scoreless innings, giving up one hit, with no walks and one strikeout.
The win over the Mustangs put us into a game against the Dallas Spartans, who had thoroughly crushed the Branson Warriors (23-0) in their first pool game. Apparently it was the Falcons turn to do some crushing as Ramirez pitched a complete game with 7 strikeouts, 2 walks, and no earned runs over five innings. Dallas did manage three runs on an error, but the game was not close as the Falcons strung rallies together and run-ruled the Spartans 13-3.
Tuesday, May 2 - Qualifying Game
The 2-0 record in pool play, combined with a low "runs allowed" stat, gave the Falcons the #3 seed going into the Q-Games, which determine bracket play for the remainder of the tournament (winners go to Division I and losers go to Division II.) In the Q-Game, the Falcons faced yet another Texas opponent, the Plano Chargers. Junior Garrett Mullican took the mound for the Falcons, pitching two scoreless innings with three strikeouts, one walk, and one hit over two innings. Meanwhile, the Falcons bats came alive as they scored 10 runs early to build an insurmountable lead. Relief pitching struggled, but the Falcons held on to win 14-8, sending them to the Division I bracket for the fourth straight year.
Wednesday, May 3 - Off Day
Thursday, May 4 - Division I, Game 1
In the Division I bracket, the Falcons road to the championship had to go through last year's runner-up and last year's champion. The Raleigh (NC) Warriors were the 2016 runner-up, and home team Northside's first challenge in bracket play.
Up until this point in the tournament, the Warriors had given up a total of only two runs, and those against good teams. Fortunately, the Falcons had solid pitching of their own. Senior Drake Pierson got the nod for this critical first-round contest...and didn't disappoint. Pierson allowed just five hits over 6-1/3 innings, with no earned runs, three walks...and 13 strikeouts! Junior Treet Williams hit a bases-loaded single in the bottom of the third to drive in the Falcons first run, giving them an early lead that would hold for most of the game. After Pierson recorded one out in the top of the seventh, Mullican took over in relief, getting the last two outs of that half inning, but not before allowing the Warriors to score on a wild pitch, tying the game at 1-1. Even so, as the home team, Northside still had the upper hand...and they made the most of it. With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Junior Felipe Cruz drilled a walk-off single through the gap between short and third, scoring Pierson from third, and sending the Falcons on to the semifinals.
Friday, May 5 - Division I Semifinal
The victory over Raleigh set the stage for a matchup against the defending champion Tulsa (OK) Jaguars, who on Thursday had beat the St. Louis Patriots 11-4. It would prove to be another tight game where the Falcons would need strong piching and defense as the Jaguars pitching was itself excellent, holding Northside to just three runs over six innings. That would turn out to be enough, however, as a trio of Falcons pitchers effectively shut down the Jaguars scoring, allowing just one run over seven innings. Mullican got the start and pitched the game of his life, allowing just three hits and no earned runs over 6-1/3 innings. He also walked just three Tulsa batters while striking out 14! Junior Oscar Kanada pitched 1/3 of an inning, recording a strikeout of his own, and Ramirez closed out the game with a strikeout as well. The Falcons scored early on a passed ball, and increased their lead with a two-run opposite field homer by Kanada, his second of the tournament. The final result was a 3-1 win and a trip to the championship game.
In the upper half of the bracket, the Oklahoma City Broncos had wrestled their way to a couple of wins as well. In their first game, they beat the Fort Worth Riders 10-7, leading to a matchup against the always-strong, five-time champion Dallas Angels. They won that semi-final as well (4-1), which set the stage for the championship game against the Falcons.
Saturday, May 6 - Division I Championship
Northside lost the coin flip, so they were visitors for this, the most important game of the season. After a scoreless top of the first, the Falcons would once again rely on strong pitching while taking advantage of the other team's errors and a couple of timely hits.
Cruz, DHing for freshman Joe Johnson (left field), hit safely in his first two at-bats. In the top of the second inning, Cruz hit a single up the middle and scored from first on a line drive shot by Mullican down the left field line. In the fourth inning, Cruz reached first again on a single to right. He advanced to third on a Bronco error, then scored on a passed ball. In the fifth inning, Kanada scored on a sacrifice fly by Pierson. In the seventh, Kanada reached first base safely on an errant throw from the Broncos shortstop. He moved to second on a passed ball, then reached third on a single by Williams. With two outs, Kanada scored when Ramirez hit a line drive to left center.
In each of those four innings, the Falcons were only able to manufacture one run before the Broncos put the brakes on. But those four runs would be plenty as the Falcons pitching again dominated the competition. Springfield took the mound in the championship game, pitching five scoreless innings while racking up nine strikeouts. Ramirez again came in as a closer in the sixth, and immediately recorded two strikeouts of his own. The inning ended on a highlight-film 6-3 put-out by Kanada. Ramirez returned to the mound in the bottom of the seventh, and put up two more Ks, including the climactic game ending strikeout that would set off a wave of celebration...on the field...in the bleachers...and back in Conroe, Texas where friends and family were glued to the live stream broadcast. What a day!
Final Score: 4-0 Falcons
The home run by Oscar Kanada in the first game may be the longest ever hit at a World Series tournament, leaving the park at fifty feet above the scoreboard in left field.
The win by the Falcons completed a Houston-area sweep of the tournament's three divisions. The HCYA Eagles won the Division II Championship, and the West Houston Thunder won Division III. "Houston, we do not have a problem".