PITTSBURG — It was an all-around, team effort for the U.S. Awards Ironbirds in the Ted Carnino championship game on Thursday, as they rallied in the middle innings to beat MPIX 8-3 for the biggest win of the season.
Perseverance was a theme for the Ironbirds all season long, which fittingly concluded with a comeback victory in the championship game.
“I’m extremely proud of them,” Ironbirds head coach Blake Benson said. “They worked as a team, never gave up and were extremely unselfish. There were several times they could have quit — not only through the season, but also during the playoffs — and they never did. That’s why they’re winners tonight.”
Trailing 2-1 with the bases loaded and one out in the third inning, Carsen Nickelsen drove in three of the Ironbirds’ four runs in the frame on a double into the left-centerfield gap.
The Ironbirds went on to plate two more insurance runs in the fifth inning, while relief pitcher Gavin Hurt kept the lead safe on the mound to earn the win.
“We’ve had great pitching all year and that was the case tonight,” Benson said. “I’m really proud of the way everybody in our lineup swung the bat tonight. Everybody has a good chance of getting on base and I think that caught the defense off guard, because they knew there weren’t any easy outs. It was a big reason why we were able to beat a really good team tonight in MPIX.”
Conner Proffitt crossed the plate in the opening inning to give the Stormchasers their first lead of the game, but the Ironbirds answered with a run of their own in the bottom half of the frame on an RBI single by Nickelsen to tie the score at 1-all.
MPIX regained the lead in the third on the strength of an RBI single to center field off the bat of Proffitt, but the Ironbirds took control of the contest with four runs in their half of the inning to go up 5-2.
Esvin Mendez drew a walk to get the four-run inning going, before moving up to second on a base hit to left field by Ty Harrison and advancing to third on an infield single beat out by Gavin Hurt.
With three on and one out, Nickelsen promptly unloaded the bases with a double into the left-center field gap and advanced to third on the throw to the plate.
Tristan Blanken drove in Nickelsen in the next at-bat on an a single through the right side of the infield.
The Stormchasers got one run back in the fourth inning — as David Mendez crossed the plate on a defensive miscue — but the Ironbirds responded with three runs in the fifth to increase the lead to 8-3.
The fifth inning was highlighted by an RBI double off the fence in the right-center field by Nickelsen.
Brady Badart belted a one-out single through the left side in the sixth inning to keep MPIX alive and stole second and third base, but couldn’t come in to score before the final out was recorded.
U.S. AWARDS AT THE PLATE
Nickelsen was the offensive catalyst, driving in five runs on three hits with two runs scored and a stolen base.
Harrison also had three hits with three runs scored.
MPIX AT THE PLATE
Badart was seeing the ball well, as he went 2-for-3 with a run scored.
Proffitt was also productive, driving in one run on one hit with a run scored and a walk.
U.S. AWARDS ON THE BUMP
Nickelsen kept the Ironbirds in the game as the starter, tallying four strikeouts through three innings of work.
Hurt came in to begin the fourth frame and recorded three strikeouts en route to closing out the win.
MPIX ON THE BUMP
Proffitt threw three complete innings as the starter and earned three strikeouts.
Jaxx Erwin came out in relief to begin the fourth inning and struck out two batters before handing the ball over to Badart in the fifth, who earned one strikeout.
— Jordan Buckamneer is the sports editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. E-mail him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @jbuckamneer.