It started out looking like Groundhog Day for the NYO 12U longhorns at the All Star Showdown XII in Canton – a schedule once again forcing families to endure traffic so bad it made taking the 405 at rush hour to a Lakers game seem pleasant, rain clouds that seemed to singularly follow the ‘Horns from park to park like Pigpen’s cloud of dust followed him, and a pool play draw that offered up a third matchup with a newfound rival in only the team’s second summer tilt. By the end of the weekend, however, the only real recurrence was that Head Coach Brad Glenn and his trusty and skilled former-players-turned-NYO-assistant coaches Lee Caswell and Michael Thorne worked their magic – getting the buy-in from Longhorns players, families and fans to ensure a deep tournament run.
After a heartbreaking loss in the rain-delayed pool play opener that still featured the flashes of brilliance from a number of Longhorn players that the coaches preach, including a multi-hit game by Matias Raponi, Justin early (AGAIN!) and Alex Berry, the ‘Horns families and players literally folded their tents and packed it in for the (long, late) drive home. But, after a night’s rest and assurances from the coaching staff that there is no “quit” anywhere in the word “Longhorn” (confirmed by subsequent research), the reinvigorated players brought their big bats for the rest of the weekend, looked at the coaches and said “we’re all in” (figuratively, as we would never encourage underage – or any – illegal gambling). The buy-in was critical, as the coaching staff’s strategy of win by committee with everyone contributing immediately started to pay dividends in a blowout win over a team from Buckhead Baseball where friendships forged in neighborhoods and note-sharing in class were put aside. The win was anchored by big bats up and down the lineup, including Logan Lutz finally getting rewarded for crushing baseballs with a key RBI< Ayden Long’s near-negative WHIP, crazy patience at the plate by hard hitting Elliot Stewart ensuring he was running wild on the basepaths all night long and solid relief work by usual-centerfielder extraordinaire Noah Glenn.
A three-seed heading into elimination play meant a 5:45 a.m. Sunday wake-up call and lots of missed Saturday night social events – and the Longhorns unleashed their anger over the early bedtimes early and often, putting up 14 runs in the early game behind RBIs from 9 separate players. Brooks Beach opened the floodgates in the early game with a key 1st inning RBI, and the ‘Horns got multi-hit performances from 4 Longhorns, including Emma Simon, who tallied ’s 3 RBIs to lead the team. The offensive outburst let Aiden Berry comfortably operate on cruise control on the mound, and he delivered a 4-hit, one-run complete game gem. The sunrise destruction of the Kennesaw Generals still left the Longhorns as a slight underdog in a semifinal rematch against pool-play opponent Alpharetta Red Raiders. As temperatures rose so did the tensions and the level of the Longhorns play –the bats again heated up at key times, anchored by Brayden Bassett’s bases clearing smack as part of an 8-run 4th inning that saw the ‘Horns chase 3 Red Raiders pitchers from the game. Just as Alpharetta looked to try to redux its Thursday night come from behind walk-off win, cool coaching strategies, mixed with some timely yelling from Coach Glenn and his lieutenants, allowed the players to double down on the beliefs in the “win by team” concept instilled by their fearless leaders – pitchers throwing strikes and relying on their defense – and the ‘Horns turned a 2-5-4 (or something like that), game ending, couldn’t-be overturned-on-appeal, double play.
Riding high on emotion and Gatorade-sugar, the Longhorns immediately turned around in the high heat and entered the tournament finals against a (must-have-been-nice-to-be) well rested team from Buckhead that was also seeking to avenge their park-mates’ loss to the Longhorns in pool play. The Longhorns dug deep into the bag of heart and effort, keeping the top-seeded Bombers off-balance and in a tie game late into the contest. The Longhorns again relied on the team approach, with some dazzling defense, hits coming off of 8 different bats backed up by solid fundamental baserunning, and three ’Horns toeing the mound to keep it close. After 12 hot and hazy hours at the park, with a late-game rain delay thrown in for good measure, ultimately, the weary Longhorns succumbed to some late inning offense from the team from Buckhead.
Asked about the weekend, Co-Head Assistant Coach Caswell said “We’re really proud of the kids. We’ve been preaching toughness since day one, and they showed a lot of heart and fight. They had opportunities to lay down and call it quits, but this is a gritty and determined team, with a really high ceiling.” At press time, we were unable to confirm if the high ceiling was really a reference to many of the kids on the team being a bit height-challenged. Co-Head Assistant Coach Thorne added “I don’t know of any other 12U teams that have the moxie to overcome the attempted hex that one of our opponents attempted to put on us in the form of a plastic doll. I’m just so proud of everybody, and can’t wait to get back on the fields in Canton after a Thursday rush-hour commute next week.”