By Bryan Gaskins
---- — King’s Heating is the king of Howard County major league youth baseball for 2013.
The UCT squad topped Russiaville’s Salsbery Garden Center 4-3 in the title game of the Kokomo Tribune-sponsored David A. Kasey Memorial Tournament on Thursday night at Northwestern.
“It feels awesome,” King’s Heating skipper Jeremy Moon said. “As soon as we knew it was over, I just told the kids, ‘This is a life lesson that if you do things the right way, good things come to you.’ We’ve worked hard to reach this point. Not all of them are power hitters, but we play team ball.”
Salsbery scored two runs in the top of the fifth inning to surge into a 3-2 lead, but King’s answered with two runs in the bottom of the frame to take a 4-3 lead. Elijah Moon drove in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly to right field.
King’s relief pitcher Logan Bowser retired Salsbery in order in the top of the sixth to end the game and set off a championship celebration.
“It was awesome to see the kids pull together and just be clutch when we had to be,” Jeremy Moon said. “We knew [Salsbery] wasn’t necessarily Russiaville’s strongest team, but we knew they’d come to play ball and we just had to muscle through it. It could have gone anybody’s way. We had four or five errors in the game — I wouldn’t have expected that out of us, but some of it is jitters. This is a big stage to play on.”
Elijah Moon and Bowser are the squad’s only 12-year-old players. The big stage surely seemed out of reach when they were 9 year olds.
“We were 1-19. This is a huge turnaround,” Jeremy Moon said.
King’s improved to 21-1 with the title win. Salsbery dropped to 15-9.
The title game of the 57th-annual tournament proved tense. When Bowser retired Salsbery in order in the sixth, it marked just the second 1-2-3 inning in the game. Both squads put the pressure on the other throughout.
“It was back and forth, back and forth,” Salsbery manager Dan Wright said. “I have to give it to both teams for getting here and playing good games.”
Salsbery struck first. In the top of the first, leadoff hitter Casey Vail reached on an error and Kitchel Gifford drew a one-out walk. Elliot Arnold followed with a single to center, but King’s cut down Vail trying to score for the second out to seemingly halt Salsbery’s momentum. Instead, Daniel Wright drew a walk and Adam Terrell hit a grounder that King’s misplayed, allowing Gifford to score.
Salsbery returned the favor in the bottom of the first. Matthew Arcari drew a one-out walk and Jaden Armfield followed with a groundout. Arcari took third on the play, then scooted home when Salsbery committed a throwing error.
King’s added a run in the second for a 2-1 lead. Charez Butcher led off with a single and advanced to second on an error. Cameron Arcari followed with a sacrifice to move Butcher to third. Two batters later, Caydan Belt drew a walk, putting runners on the corners with two outs. With Ethan Moon at the plate, Belt broke for second, drawing a throw. Belt stopped, drawing Salsbery into a pickle play, and Butcher came home on the delayed steal for the 2-1 lead.
The score remained 2-1 until the fifth.
In the top of the fifth, Vail reached on a single, moved to second on Alex Kirk’s sacrifice, took third on a wild pitch and scored on a throwing error. Gifford then singled to left, moved to third on the play when King’s had a throwing error, and scored on a wild pitch for a 3-2 lead.
King’s answered with the winning rally in the bottom of the fifth. Bowser was hit by a pitch for the second time in the game and Armfield drew a one-out walk, putting runners at first and second. With Elijah Moon at the plate, the runners each advanced a base on a wild pitch and then Bowser scored and Armfield took third on a passed ball. Elijah Moon followed with the go-ahead sacrifice fly to right.
Bowser, the third of three King’s pitchers, slammed the door shut in the top of the sixth. Elijah Moon pitched the first two innings and Armfield followed with three innings of work for the win.
Gifford pitched a complete game for Salsbery. He allowed just two hits and struck out eight, but walked four and hit three batters.
Butcher was 2 for 3 for King’s. Vail was 2 for 3 for Salsbery.
King’s win makes it three straight Kasey titles for UCT following H.P. McPike’s back-to-back titles. UCT is the first league to win three straight since Northwestern in 2005-07. Overall, King’s is the 10th UCT team to win the tournament.
“My two sons go to Western. All we ever hear about is Russiaville. It just makes us work hard,” Jeremy Moon said with a smile.
Salsbery was a surprise finalist after finishing fourth in Russiaville’s standings.
“The kids were upset and I told them if you had polled every manager in this city if they thought we’d be here, I don’t think anyone other than us would have given us a shot. They need to be proud of their accomplishments,” Dan Wright said.