FARMINGTON — Nothing could derail the East Cobb Yankees' quest over the last week for a sixth Connie Mack World Series championship.
The Yankees, based out of Marietta, Ga., completed a 5-0 perfect week with a 6-2 victory against 2012 CMWS winners, the Southern California Renegades, on Friday night at Ricketts Park in Farmington. They claimed the sixth CMWS crown in East Cobb's history and the first for the team since 2008.
"When you come out to Farmington and play like this and get another national championship in what is the biggest championship for 17- and 18-year-old boys, it means a lot to the program in the future and now. It means a lot to these guys," said Yankees manager James Beavers. "I can't say enough about the way we played. It is something none of them will ever forget. I have former players in Major League Baseball and all over the country, and they still talk about how much Connie Mack meant to them."
Friday night's win was not certain until the seventh inning, as the two teams went into the final frame tied 2-2. With Southern California relief pitcher Ryan Kayoda on the mound, East Cobb's Brandon Gold, who was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, came up with a leadoff single to spark a Yankees run spree.
Nine-hole hitter Ryan Gridley came through with a one-out single to give East Cobb runners on first and second. Southern California manager Si Pettrow relieved Kayoda with closer Brian Serven as East Cobb leadoff hitter Stephen Wrenn Jr. came up to bat.
Wrenn hit a ball on the infield and, with Gold contemplating running for home from third base, the Renegades fired to third base to try to get Gold diving back in to the base. Gold was called safe, and East Cobb loaded the bases with one out and the go-ahead run still on third base.
Pettrow moved his infield in to try to cut down a run at home plate, but East Cobb's Wade Bailey hit a perfect chopper over the head of Southern California second baseman Darren Miller to drive in Gold and Gridley and give East Cobb a 4-2 lead in the top of the seventh inning.
"Biggest hit of my life," Bailey said. "We practice that situation all the time. I was just looking to put the ball in play. I got a good pitch and got a little lucky, but it worked. It was a great feeling. Baseball is a crazy sport, and I am glad it worked out like it did."
Pettrow believed the situation of bases loaded and one out should have never happened. He questioned the call at third base when Gold was ruled safe diving back into the bag.
"The win was well-deserved by East Cobb, but it was a crucial call at third base with an umpire, again," Pettrow said. "It went East Cobb's way this time, and they capitalized on the bad call, in our opinion."
Pettrow said he thought about playing his middle infield at double-play depth with bases loaded and one out, but he believed if one run scored and his team couldn't turn the double play, the game would be over.
"We felt one run was going to lose the game after the call at third. We took our chances," he said.
East Cobb came through with two more runs for added insurance in the top of the seventh inning as Will Craig was plunked by a pitch to bring in Wrenn, and Jason Delay came up with a sacrifice fly to score Bailey.
East Cobb reliever Bryan White slammed the door on Southern California in the bottom of the seventh inning, striking out Miller to end the game. White took the win in the game after throwing two shutout innings. He gave up just two hits and struck out two. He didn't issue a walk.
Payton Smith started the game for East Cobb and went five innings before giving way to White. Smith gave up two runs on five hits while striking out three and walking two. He carried a 32-inning shutout streak into the game and saw it come to an end at 33.
"Pitching here was great. This whole team of ours can hit. As a pitcher, you are in a comfort zone when you pitch because our hitters are incredible," Smith said.
Smith made few mistakes in the game. He allowed a leadoff solo home run in the second inning to Renegade Lucas Herbert, and a leadoff walk cost him in the fifth as Gavin Collins came around to score on a Miller RBI-single.
"I messed up on a few pitches. Herbert and I play high school ball together, so he knows what I throw," Smith said. "When he hit that, I knew we were going to answer. We are not a team that dies right there. We were coming in the seventh inning."
East Cobb didn't score until the fifth inning as Nathaniel Lowe and Gold hit consecutive singles off Southern California starting pitcher Jacob Nix to start the inning. Gridley then came through with a two-run double to score both boys and give the team a 2-1 lead at the time.
It was part of an incredible series for Gridley, a nine-hole hitter who was 4-for-5 against Strike Zone on Thursday night before going 2-for-3 Friday night.
"It has been a surreal experience. We got down early but came back and worked as a team out there to make our dreams come true," Gridley said. "I would never consider myself a typical nine-hole hitter. I would consider myself as more of a double leadoff man. This entire experience is something I will be telling my grandkids about some day."
The loss came as a heartbreaker for the Renegades as they fell just short of winning back-to-back championships.
"It was a great summer. It is hard to get to this point, and you don't want to lose. Ever. We were on the other side of the coin last year. You work all summer to be the champ, but take nothing away from our team's accomplishments," Pettrow said. "We won over 45 games, and you can't take that away from the kids. It is a bitter pill to swallow when you lose, but, after you sit back and think about it, getting here is the accomplishment and winning is just extra."
East Cobb finished its season with a 57-4 record. Several of the Yankees called their team a family and referred to Beavers as a second father. Delivering him a sixth championship was the perfect way to thank him for all he has done for them this summer.
"There isn't a better group of guys in the country we could have won this with or coaches we could have won it for," Smith said. "It is one of the best experiences of all of our lives. Ken Griffey Jr. still says the Connie Mack World Series was one of the top moments of his life, and I know it is going be in my memory for a long time."John Livingston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 505-564-4648. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2.