The following is a recap of the Westminster National Classic championship. Read another story on the game in the tournament's hometown paper here.
December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night) was a #1 single by The Four Seasons back in 1975. The song -- well before my time -- rang through my head on our long drive back to Bradenton after the IMG Academy School at the IMG Academy baseball program won the Westminster National Classic in dramatic fashion.
Oh, What a Night - these words can only begin to describe what transpired over the course of the championship game. The emotions were high and the adrenaline was pumping. The competition was fierce and the environment was downright hostile.
If you missed my pre-game post, the South Fork Bulldogs (5A)from Stuart, FL came into last night's contest with an impressive 18-1record. The Bulldogs can swing the bat with the best of teams and will stopat nothing to impose their will on the opponent. With this fact in mind, it was never more important to get on the board first.
We sent junior preseason All-American Casey Mulholland to the mound with the daunting task of silencing the Bulldogs both offensively and vocally. Mulholland posted a zero in the top half of the first and the IMG Academy hitters were chomping at the bit. Dillon Moyer led off the game with a single through the right side and advanced to third after astolen baseand throwing error. With John Ryan Murphy at the plate, we liked our chances of putting a run on the board in the first. Sure enough, Murphy delivered with a RBI single to left field.
Gavin Patton followed with a single through the hole vacated by Murphy's stolen base attempt. Aggressive base-running allowed Murphy to score on the play and Patton advanced to second on the throw home. Blaze Tart delivered the third run of the inning on a sac fly to center field after a stolen base by Patton. It was just the start that the Panthers were looking for.
Up 3-0, Casey Mulholland settled in very nicely after a shaky first and started showcasing his dominant stuff. Throwing at 91 mph most of the night, Mulholland used a nice mix of curveballs and change-ups to keep the Bulldog hitters off balance. The momentum was clearly on our side, with it never more clear than hearing the deafening silence coming from our opponent's dugout.
The offense plated two more runs an inning later to increase the lead to 5-0. Blaze Tart came to the plate with runners on second and third, and the infield playing in on the grass. Tart hit a missile past the first baseman for a two-run single, scoring Murphy and Patton. With Mulholland on top of his game and five-run lead, the Panthers were poised to take home the championship. South Fork, however, would not go down without a fight.
After tacking on a run to make the score 5-1, the Bulldogs came to life in the top of the seventh. The last three outs are always the toughest, and this game proved no different. South Fork plated four runs to tie the game at 5-5, creating the most hostile environment we had ever witnessed at a high school baseball game. Blaze Tart, in relief of Mulholland, closed out the inning and set up one of the most electrifying moments that I've ever witnessed on the baseball field.
These next few sentences will certainly come short of capturing the moment. But as a teaser to a future post, video footage of the event will say it all. John Ryan Murphy, preseason All-American (University of Miami commit) and All-Universe in my humble opinion, was due to lead off the bottom of the seventh.
If you know Murph, he has a knack for coming through in big situations, and this was certainly one of those moments.
After taking 3 straight balls, everyone in the park knew he had the green light, except for maybe the most important person -- the pitcher. Murphy unleashed on the 3-0 offering and hit a "no-doubter" mammoth shot over the leftfield fence for a walk-off championship-winning home run. The dugout erupted in celebration as theplayersrushed home plate.
After rounding third, Murphy leaped into the sky, landed on home plate and joined in on the celebration. Oh, what a night!
The championship ceremony followed the celebration, and the Panthers took home some serious hardware. Casey Mulholland was named to the All-Tournament Team. Jesus Sanchez took home the Cy Young Award and Dillon Moyer took home the Gold Glove Award. Fittingly, John Ryan Murphy took home the MVP Award. The championship was a well-deserved team accomplishment that will undoubtedly last in the memories of those who were in attendance.