Although it has one game remaining today in Pool N, Xcel (6-0) clinched the division with the victory and advanced to the 32-team championship bracket, which begins this afternoon. Nelson fell to 4-2 in pool play with one game left, and will not move on.
“It’s great to be in the championship field,” said Frank Schaeffer, coach of the Port St. Lucie, Fla.-based Xcel team. “You play the pool games to get that automatic bid, and now we have it. We have one more game left in the pool, and then we get to play the other top teams that made it. We hope to keep things going. This is a great group of guys.”
Xcel clinched the pool by getting big hits when it mattered the most, and by taking advantage of its opportunities. All three of the Xcel’s runs came with two outs on the board, and the team combined to record five stolen bases.
“We assembled this team with speed at the top and bottom of the order,” Schaeffer said. “This is the kind of tournament that is a lot like our other summer tournaments that end up being pitchers’ duels. We have to be prepared to make things happen when they turn out like that, and it’s worked out for us.”
Alvin Swoope reached base on an error with one out in the bottom of the first and stole second. After a foul out, Michael Conger doubled into left-center field to score Swoope for Xcel’s first run of the contest.
Nelson pitcher Corbin Luther kept Xcel at bay with back-to-back double plays to end the second and third innings, and a fly out to right stranded runners on first and third in the fourth.
Xcel broke through again, however, in the fifth. Jason Popovich drew a two-out walk, stole second and scored on Richie Furline’s double to left-center for a 2-0 advantage.
Furline stole third after recent Allatoona graduate Evan McMinamin walked Swoope in relief of Luther. Connor Law, who then came on to replace McMinamin, gave up a RBI single to pinch-hitter Jerome Jones, plating Furline for the 3-0 margin.
“The guys had a nice game with some clutch hits,” Schaeffer said. “We’ve struggled with that this week, but our pitchers have been very good. We’ve had four shutouts in a row now, so it’s good to see the bats going.”
Nelson managed to get runners on base in the second, third and fourth innings, but no one made it past second.
Carter Sangrey walked in the second and singled in the fourth. Tyler Mauzy, a Hillgrove graduate who’s signed to play next year at Georgia College and State University, was 1-for-2 with a single in the fourth. Audi Plemmons, a Lassiter graduate, singled in his lone at-bat in the third.
Those were Nelson’s lone three hits
“(Xcel) did a good job adjusting with two outs,” Nelson coach Brian Nelson said. “Their guys made some good plays.”
The game was suspended in the top of the sixth due to lightning and was called nearly two hours later after Nelson declined to continue the matchup. With the game having already been delayed for two hours, Nelson believed there was no real anticipated time available for a restart.
“(The tournament director) said it would be a couple of hours before we could get going again,” Nelson said. “We didn’t feel the need to continue holding up the game.”
Schaeffer acknowledged it was Nelson’s call to make with Xcel leading 3-0.
“I respect his decision,” he said, “but I was willing to wait as long as possible.”