It's what every Little Leaguer dreams of: last inning, full count, bases loaded and a chance to be the hero. The pitcher envisions throwing the heater past the batter for the winning strikeout while the batter imagines crushes the imaginary pitch over the fence.
Wednesday night in the 8-, 9- and 10-year-old championship game, the dream sequence played out for Mark Doolin of the Hayden Blue Jays and Gage Gowdy of the Craig Camilletti Financial Group Bulldogs.
In the top of the fifth inning, the Bulldogs were down, 8-4, when Gowdy came up to the plate with the bases loaded. Doolin threw three straight balls to fall behind in the count. Then he came back to throw two strikes to load it up. The Blue Jays' ace then put a happy ending on his night with a fastball down the middle, untouched by Gowdy, for strike three.
"This was probably our best game of the season," Blue Jays coach Richard "Festus" Hagins said after congratulating his team. "We've been waiting for our bats to complement our pitching, and they finally did tonight."
The Blue Jays jumped on the Bulldogs early with three runs in the first and five runs in the second. After that it was a pitching duel; something Hagins expected.
"We knew that they would probably bring their better arms later in the game," he said. "So we planned our matchups that way."
Sammy Parker and Mason Updike combined to shut down the Hayden offense the final 3 2/3 thirds innings. But Doolin and Nick Williams kept the Bulldogs from making up too much ground, allowing three runs in the last three innings. Parker Hagins also allowed just one run in his two innings on the mound for Hayden.
"It's a matter of throwing strikes at this age," Bulldog coach Billy Davis said. "They've got some good pitchers, and they got us tonight."
The key matchup for coach Hagins was Updike versus Doolin.
"I knew they would probably throw Mason to close out the game," he said. "So I saved Mark to match up against their ace."
The Blue Jays and Bulldogs knew each other well. Not only did they meet three times this season (the Bulldogs won once 8-6), some of the players are on the same traveling team, the Colorado Cutthroats.
Updike said that his team's ability to beat the Blue Jays once was the rally cry before the game.
"We knew we could beat them because we had before," he said. "They were just too good tonight."
With the win, the Blue Jays finished 10-1 for the season and were the regular-season and tournament champions. The Bulldogs finished 10-3 in their second-place season.