Georgia Barons 7, Tampa Thunder 3
‘Waldburg Earns MVP Honors’
By Chris Errington, Special to MSBL
November 8, 2015, Clearwater, FL – Dre Waldburg responded to a demotion to the bottom of the batting order the only way he knew. By playing better than anyone else. The diminutive second baseman had a pair of clutch hits, drove in four runs and capped a stellar week by earning MVP honors to help the Barons capture a second championship.
Moving to the 10th spot in the batting order “was kind of frustrating, but I just considered myself a second leadoff man,” the 5-foot-6, 150 pound Waldburg said. “I just wanted to stay calm and hit something hard. I’d rather hit second, but I’ll do whatever helps the team.” Waldburg’s two-out, two-run double to left-center broke open a scoreless tie in the fifth and his two-run single to center in a three-run ninth put to rest any thoughts of a Tampa comeback. Defensively, Waldburg was just as magnificent, even earning a place on social media for a leaping grab of a liner during round-robin play.
“He was just phenomenal all tournament on both sides of the ball,” winning manager Jason Tolhurst said. “He had four or five clutch hits and came through for us time after time.” Waldburg keyed an 11-hit attack that started slowly, but finished strong by scoring all seven runs from the fifth inning onward.
Meanwhile, Tampa, which entered the final undefeated, seldom solved pitchers Nathan Moneau and Pete Martinez. Moneau exited after five hitless innings due to a triceps injury. The Barons need not worry however, as Martinez allowed only five hits over the final four innings and limited the damage the few times Tampa threatened. “We had [Martinez] set up for this moment,” Tolhurst said. “We needed guys who aren’t afraid to fail and he’s that kind of guy.”
The biggest Tampa threat came in the seventh with Georgia leading 4-0 following run-scoring singles from Ben Grillo and Cory Willig in the sixth. Bobby Eveld hit a one-out double and Justin Mauldin reached on a two-out error to extend the inning. Shane Casey’s double to right-center plated both runners and finally gave Tampa some momentum. But when Martinez induced a pop out to end that threat, got a fly out to end the eighth with the tying run at bat and Georgia pushed across three runs in the ninth, the Barons were home free.
“Give their pitchers credit,” Tampa manager Pier Ballesterios said. “They did a great job keeping us off balance. We hit the ball hard all week and we did it today, but they made the plays. Sometimes you have it. Sometimes you don’t.”
Tolhurst won a championship in 2012 after finishing runner-up in 2008, but for most Barons, this was a new experience. The manager noted that following the 2012 title run with a group of veterans, most of the players left the team. At that point, Tolhurst said the Barons nearly folded, but just three years later and with numerous new faces, they are champions again. “You can’t beat the first one,” he said. “But with this being the first time for so many guys, this one is great, too.”
Despite not collecting their first hit until Alex Delgado’s one-out single in the fourth, the Barons grabbed the lead when a single and two walks loaded the bases with two outs. Waldburg then launched a 2-1 fastball to left-center to plate Grillo and Steven Barnett. Georgia scored two more two-out runs in the sixth, before Barnett’s single to left in the ninth pushed the lead to 5-2. Waldburg, whom Tolhurst said was moved to the 10th spot after struggling offensively during league play, then followed with his line single to center over a drawn-in infield.
Georgia reached the title game following a 2-2 round-robin effort and playoff wins over the Miami-Dade Marlins (12-4) and Long Island Tide (24-12). Tampa topped the Georgia Cherokees in the semifinals with Mauldin’s 3-for-4 effort key in the 9-7 victory.
Georgia Barons 0 0 0 0 2 2 0 0 3 – 7 11 1
Tampa Thunder 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 1 – 3 5 1
WP: Moneau; LP: Lally; S: Martinez. Pitching: Moneau, Martinez (6) and Gaston (G). Lally, Zlotnik (6), Bloomer (6) and Pagan (T). 2B: Waldburg (G); Eveld, Casey, Houme (T). HR: Martin (T).