(NOTE: I typed this up on my laptop sitting in the back seat of a car while driving to DC.  Forgive me in advance for typos.)

Sometimes a simple game becomes larger than life. Usually it is the “big” game, a final game or an elimination game. And sometimes it’s the game between rivals as with today’s game between TVBR and Tallahassee, FL. As you may recall, Tallahassee and TVBR met in the final game of the 13-year old World Series in Utah last summer where we lost a heart-breaker by one run, so today’s game was about avenging that loss.

But before I go on, we have to remember TVBR is just a youth baseball team from the sleepy side of the SF Bay Area and they have a rival located 46 states away in Florida. That to me is amazing in and of itself and really exemplifies the level of play TVBR has achieved as a nationally-recoginzed power team. How many 14 year old boys can say they have played boys and teams from literally all over this great country and to list a Florida team as their rival?

Don’t get me wrong – this rivalry isn’t about loud mouths and cheap shots. Florida is a great group of sportsmen, just like TVBR. They are winners and want to win, just like TVBR. And last year, when Florida won the championship, they removed their caps before shaking each of our boys’ hands as a sign of respect between true competitors. Today, we met again in this little town of Purcellville and TVBR, the parents and our new-found host families were super pumped up to get this game under our belt. I even read in the local Loudoun-Times Mirror newspaper’s website, comments from local folks excited to see this re-match; it’s as if the game took on a national Babe Ruth mystique, kind of like the Yankees versus the Red Sox, but completely different, if that makes any sense.

Brian Hsu (P) took the hill as the home team pitcher and got out of the top of 1 facing only 4 batters, leaving one runner stranded. TVBR then took their bats and with two early outs, got the ball rolling. Noah Robbins (3B) was first to reach with a base hit to right of center, followed by Jake Dronkers (1B) bloop shot over shortstop where the left fielder mishandled the ball allowing it to continue rolling past him – Robbins plated and Dronkers went to second. Ryan Anderson grounded out to end the inning. 1 – 0 TVBR.

Hsu got into a bit of a jam in the 2nd allowing a lead-off double a sacrafice fly and a walk to put runners on 1st and 3rd with two outs, but induced the last hitter into a grounder to Robbins at 3rd to preserve the lead. Hsu them led-off for TVBR and singled to right. Shawn Vincent (RF) grounded to short for a fielder’s choice at 2nd after two fouled bunts and Danny Jackson (C) hit a deep fly to center – 340′ – for out #2 and Franco grounded to short for another fielder’s choice.

TVBR’s defense continued to protect Hsu with stellar play. Florida’s #7 led off with a sharp single up the middle for a single. #44 took his 2-0 pitch hard down the infield 3rd base line where Robbins thru to Anderson at 2nd to a stretched-out Dronkers at 1st for a double-play the hard-90 way! Hsu then retired #8 in 3 pitches for a strike-out. Despite each batter putting the ball in-play, TVBR could not convert Soltis’ single to a run.

Florida’s hitters saw the ball well in the top of the 4th and plated 3 runs on a pair of errors and a pair of walks. 3 – 1 Florida. TVBR did not stand down and roared back with 3 runs of their own. Anderson led-off with a single to right-center followed by a Vincent line drive rolling all the way to 390 for an RBI double. Jackson repeated with a deep jack to center field’s 380′ sign plating Vincent. David Gomez pinching in for Kyle Franco (SS) drove another shot to the 350′ mark right-of-center scoring Jackson to take the lead and Florida swapped pitchers. Sprugasci hit into a fielder’s choice to 3B but assuming the ball was going deeper than it did, Gomez over-committed from 2nd and was easily tagged out. Casey Soltis grounded out to end the inning. 4 – 3 TVBR.

Hsu and defense continued to stymie Florida to prevent any runs in the top of 5, allowing 1 hit and 2 runners left on base. Tri-Valley’s Robbins led-off with a single to left and Dronkers’ bunt advanced him to 2nd, but Jake’s hard-90 and a bad throw saw him safe at 1st. Anderson then grounded to 3B for the force and a long throw to first got there before Anderson for the double play. Hsu ended the inning with a grounder. 4 – 3 TVBR.

Keith DeHollander replaced Hsu to start the 6th and retired the side with a flyout followed by two infield grounders. TVBR picked-up an insurance run with Vincent reaching on a full-count walk, advancing to 2nd on Jackson’s fielder’s choice to third. Spurgasci took a 1-2 pitch for a single up the middle to score Vincent. 5 – 3 TVBR.

DeHollander continued on the bump needing only 3 outs for the save in the top of 7, however, Florida’s no stranger to pressure-play and answered back with a lead-off hit to shortstop. KD’s next batter stood his ground and earned a base after getting beaned. Florida’s #10 helped us by striking out at a chin-high fastball. The next hitter #14 hit into a possible double play, which forced the runner out at 2nd but the throw to Dronkers was off a bit and his attempt at a throw to the plate to catch that runner was off as well. KD then beaned the next hitter on a 3-1 pitch on the back of the helmet.

With 2 outs and 2 runners on, Sam Nathan replaced Keith to close – tough spot for anyone, but as they say, right man right time. Nathan got ahead of his first batter 1-2 but his late swing obstructed Jackson’s vision a bit and created a passed ball to the backstop advancing runners to 2nd and 3rd. This batter continued to fight-off Nathan’s pitching with fouls and then walked on 3-2 to load the bases. Florida’s #1 worked the count to 2-2 before roping a single to left to score 2 runs. Nathan got the third out on the next hitter.

Down by 1 now, Robbins took one for the team and reached on a beaning. Dronkers was up next and given the bunt sign, laid down a nice roller and was thrown out at 1, but Robbins was given the bunt-and-run to stretch the sac to 3rd where he was thrown out on a very close tag play from the first baseman. Frustratingly, Austin Piscotty hit a single to right after fouling his first two pitches. With two outs, Nathan took his turn at bat with Anderson pinching for Piscotty.

The first two pitches were balls, then a strike call, followed by another ball. With the count full, Nathan swung hard putting the ball in play to 3B for the fielder’s choice out at first to end the game.

Wow – de ja vu all over again, as Yogi once said. Sure we all walked away stunned by another thrilling game that ended in a loss, but both teams played great and all 30 or so players emptied their tanks. I am Tri-Valley’s biggest fan, but that was still a GREAT game and I know I speak for everyone in the stands – we are very proud to be Tri-Valley fans!