Florida, North Texas teams advance to AEBC final

CARY, N.C. -- Two enthralling late-inning comebacks decided who would make the championship game. By the end of the semifinals on Saturday, only Florida and North Texas were left standing in the American Elite Baseball Championship.

A Central vs. West showdown seems like a perfect way to end the tournament for North Texas coach Tommy Hernandez.

"Our goal when we came here was to play five games," Hernandez said. "Getting a chance to prove ourselves against the best team on the West Coast is special. They want to win the last game of the season. That's what we've preached all season with our team ... we'll be ready."

Northern California got off to a solid start in the second semifinal with one run in the first inning, but fell behind in the second, after allowing North Texas to score three runs. Both teams were relatively silent after that, until NorCal broke things wide open with six runs in the sixth frame.

That should have been a dagger for North Texas, but it wasn't. Eight runs in the bottom of the sixth gave North Texas a resounding 11-7 win and secured a berth to the championship game. The top team from the Lone Star State used lessons learned from Friday to key the comeback victory.

"It really started yesterday when we were down three runs after the first," Hernandez said. "They came back with six in the bottom of the first yesterday and did the exact same thing today. These boys never once had a doubt in their minds that they could win."

In the first semifinal, Florida opened up an early lead against North Atlantic, scoring a total of seven runs in the second and third innings. North Atlantic rallied in the fifth and sixth to take an 8-7 lead, but Florida wasn't done. Florida finished with a five-run seventh to pull out a 12-8 win.

More importantly, the team faced adversity after never trailing for more than one inning in the previous three games.

"I told the boys early on that we've had an easy path to this point," Florida coach Jason Miller said. "We started out with that pattern again. Then a few errors and walks and all of the sudden we're down. ... They showed a lot of heart and could have rolled over.

"I'm excited because now they've had pressure on them. So this was a great test for them before Sunday's game."

Simply making it to the championship game is an honor for the Florida team, but it's special for the players hoping to be picked for the 14U development program. All four teams who played on Saturday will play Sunday, but the championship will be held in the National Training Complex.

The game will be broadcast on MLB.com and USABaseball.com, meaning all eyes will be on the 13-year-old prospects at the National Training Complex.

"For these kids, getting a chance to play in the stadium on Sunday is huge," Miller said. "I think this is a great format. The old format was relaxed, but it was hard to keep the kids focused. These kids are able to become a team and feel like they are playing for something. We're seeing more out of them for that reason."

Both teams enter the title game undefeated with four wins over some of the best 13U programs in the country, so the pressure will be nothing new. With USA across their chests and a spot on the National Team on the line, Sunday's championship showdown will mean much more than just another game.

R. Cory Smith is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.