MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- For a moment, David Lawrence found it difficult to separate his dual roles as father and coach. Lawrence, the coach of the SY Titans, watched his son Brandon come up with a key hit at the National Youth Baseball Championships on Sunday, providing a moment he'll never forget.
The moment was huge, as Brandon stepped to the plate in the extra innings of a semifinal match against Miami-based Team MVP. Brandon lined a single off the third baseman's glove to give the Titans a 3-2 walk-off win and a berth in the finals, but also to give his dad the thrill of a lifetime.
After the game, the elder Lawrence held his arm aloft as he began his postgame interview.
"The hair on my arm is still standing up," Lawrence said. "It doesn't get any better than that. You get in that situation, and then you get a guy on third base. From a selfish point of view, my son was up to hit, and he knocked in the winning run. That's just the icing on top. If I was him, I'd be floating on air."
The Titans, who hail from Santa Ynez, Calif., will take on fellow Californians BPA DeMarini in Monday's title game, but they'll be thinking about Sunday's win for some time to come. For the second straight day, the Titans came back in the late innings and found a way to win despite adversity.
Things seemed fairly straightforward on Sunday, as starting pitcher Isaac Coffey held Team MVP scoreless for four innings. Gavin Casas tied the score on a pinch-hit home run off Coffey, though, and Team MVP pushed ahead with a rally against reliever Cooper Benson in the sixth.
But the game wasn't over. Benson tied the score with a solo homer in the bottom of the sixth inning, and Conagher Sands drew a leadoff walk to start the seventh. Sands moved to third on a balk and a throwing error, and Lawrence ended the game with his single off the third baseman's glove.
"That was a real ballgame," said coach Lawrence. "That was a battle the whole entire game. Going up 1-0 was huge, but then they came back and went up 2-1. And then the boys came back and responded, Cooper Benson with another clutch home run. What can you say?"
If Lawrence was at a loss for words, you can imagine how the other team might feel. Mandy Sierra, the coach of Team MVP, lauded his players for giving a great effort all tournament and all season.
"There have been games that we lost throughout the year that I've been really upset about because the guys didn't give the effort. There's not much you can say after a game like this," said Sierra after addressing his team. "I think every single kid on this team left their heart out there and gave us the best effort they could. We came up a little short, but I can say we didn't lose. They beat us."
The other game -- BPA DeMarini against another California team, Diamond MVP -- didn't carry as much drama. BPA had lost to Diamond by a 10-0 mercy rule scoring in the opening round, but the Lake Forest residents came out swinging and scored the first seven runs in Sunday's quarterfinal.
Diamond MVP scored four times in the bottom of the fifth inning to briefly make things interesting, but BPA DeMarini batled back for five more runs en route to a 12-4 victory. Jacob Barton allowed three earned runs and took the victory; coach Wade Jackson said it was a gutty performance.
"It was going to be a struggle, and I knew it," said Jackson. "I have guys that are sore, and I went with Barton on a gut feeling. He actually sprained his ankle and I think he's had one at-bat all weekend, but that's about all we had left on the mound for today. He hit his spots and did a heck of a job."
Jackson said that his team has been on the road for 10 days, starting with a tournament at the Dreams Park in Cooperstown, N.Y., and progressing all the way to the finals in Memphis. Three players -- Cameron Repetti, Garrett Runyan and Nash Johnson -- had three RBIs in the victory over Diamond MVP.
It will take another team effort, said Jackson, plus some extra focus to take a victory on Monday.
"It's been a very exciting 10 days," he said. "Like I said yesterday, you put a guy on the mound that does his job and throws strikes. We made some plays, and our bats are still here. We stick to our routine. We were up again at 8:30 hitting in the cages, and we're going to do it again tomorrow.
"I need some guys that are healthy on the mound. I need some guys to step up. This is their last game as 12-year-olds, and there's no turning back now. They'll never be on a 50-70 field again."
It's that dedication -- that persistence and professionalism -- that sometimes makes you forget you're dealing with precocious preteen players. Time and time again at the NYBC, the stage has been set for high-level baseball, and time and time again, the teams have met the demands placed on them.
No matter how many fans are watching, no matter how close the TV cameras get, these kids just keep playing to the best of their ability. Sierra lauded his players for their maturity and their high-octane effort at the tournament, saying they performed well beyond their years this week.
"They're 12 years old, and you've got I don't know how many people out here yelling and screaming for both sides," he said. "To see them be able to go through the things they go through and be able to keep their composure and stay level-headed, it's amazing. There's not much else I can say."