This was survival of the fittest baseball, and Russell County, Ky., had just the man for the job.
Nathan Lawson crafted a two-hitter as the Lakers defeated Columbia Basin, Wash., 2-0 on Monday, the final day of pool play in the 15-and-under Babe Ruth World Series.
With the victory, Russell County earned a berth in the bracketed tournament, which begins today at Municipal Ballpark. The Lakers, 2-2, ousted Columbia, also 2-2 from the tournament on the basis of a head-to-head tiebreaker.
Lawson, a 6-foot, 195-pound right-hander, said he desperately wanted to take the mound with the Lakers' season on the line.
"I was ready. I wanted the ball in my hands. ... It was a must-win game, you might say," he said.
Lawson had the upper hand in a 2-0 pitchers' duel with Riverdogs right-hander Jacob Martinez for six innings.
A three-run triple by Lawson was the key as Russell County pulled away with a four-run burst in the top of the seventh.
There were only five hits in the entire game. Martinez surrendered one, Lawson two and Riverdogs reliever Collin Visker allowed two.
Lawson, who won for the second time in the tournament, mowed down the first 12 men he faced. He didn't yield a hit until the fifth when Cooper Correia lined a single to center field.
Russell County took the lead in the top of the first inning as a walk to Maxon Gosser and a throwing error by first baseman Asher Lindgren led to an unearned run. A pair of one-out walks by Martinez set up an RBI single by Landon Walters in the top of the fifth.
Columbia Basin put Lawson through a wringer in the fifth. Correia's hit and two walks loaded the bases with nobody out and the Lakers clinging to a 2-0 lead.
With the infield up, the Riverdogs' Carson Janke grounded to shortstop Nick Aaron, who got the force out at the plate. Ditto the next hitter, Jack Morrill, who also bounced to shortstop. The impending rally died when Zane Harden tapped to second baseman Camden Carpenter.
Lawson said he felt he was throwing well, even as Columbia Basin threatened in the fifth.
"I felt I had my stuff all through the game," he observed.
Only an error and Correia's second single marred the final two innings as Lawson garnered his second victory of the tournament. He defeated MLB Wuxi, China 3-2 on Friday, going 6 1/3 innings.
In the two tournament games, Lawson has pitched 13 1/3 innings, allowed eight hits and surrendered two runs, both earned. He's walked three and whiffed eight while logging a 1.05 ERA. One hundred fifty nine of his 189 pitches have been strikes.
Lawson said his change-up was especially well-behaved on Monday.
"I throw a fastball, change and curveball. My change has downward movement on it ... and it worked well. I think I got four strikeouts on the change-up."
The majority of Lawson's pitches were fastballs, with the curve and change-up about even. His fastball was clocked at 82 mph.
"I hit 80 on most of my fastballs," he said.
Lawson's shutout was just the second of the tournament. Vance Ward of Norwalk, Conn., blanked Bakersfield, Calif., 2-0 with a five-hitter on Thursday.
Shutting out any of the 10 teams assembled in Bismarck is no mean feat, according to Lawson.
"There are a lot of good teams here, and a lot of good hitting teams," he noted.
COLUMBIA BASIN (WASH.) 13, MLB CHINA 12, 9 INNINGS
Pacific Northwest champion Columbia Basin scored eight runs in the top of the first inning against MLB China on Sunday, but had to come from behind and finally held off the Chinese team 13-12 in a rain-delayed nine-inning game Monday.
The game was stopped in the eighth inning tied 10-10 when storms swept through Sunday night. China responded to Columbia Basin's big first inning with one of their own, posting nine runs to take the lead. It went up 10-8 in the fourth but Columbia Basin tied it with two runs in the seventh.
Gavin Bingham and Seth Olson each singled in the fourth. Bingham scored on an error and Olson on a fielder's choice.
Columbia Basin went up 13-10 in the ninth, the first run scoring on a balk and the last two on Jack Morrill's single with two outs. That proved big as China scored two in the bottom of the inning. Alan Du walked and eventually scored on an error and Hank Feng walked and scored on a groundout. Carson Janhke struck out Steve Zhao to end the game.
Janke was the winning pitcher despite giving up two runs in 1 1/3 innings. Avery Passey, Bingham and Jacob Martinez had two hits each for Columbia Basin. Olson scored three times and Cooper Correia drove in four runs.
Du took the loss for China after giving up three runs in one inning.
Feng was 4-for-4 with two runs scored. Larry Wang was 3-for-5 with two runs and Zhao had two hits and drove in two. Petey Guo had three RBIs.
NORWALK (CONN.) 3, MILLVILLE (N.J.) 1
New England champion Norwalk, Conn., clinched the No. 1 seed out of the National Division with a 3-1 win over Middle Atlantic champion Millville, N.J., Monday at the 13-15 Babe Ruth World Series at Bismarck Municipal Ballpark.
Norwalk (3-1) advanced to the semifinals Wednesday.
Mitchell Stiles had two of Norwalk's six hits and an RBI. Cole Forcellina and Phil Nors had one hit apiece and scored on a Millville error for a 2-0 lead in the third inning.
Justin Wesztergom scored Millville's only run of the game on a Forcellina wild pitch in the third. Forcellina was the winning pitcher after going five innings and allowing four hits while striking out six. Vance Ward worked two scoreless innings for the save.
Caelin Bowles was the losing pitcher for Millville.
Logan Musey had three of the four hits surrendered by New England pitchers.
Host Bismarck emerged as the pool play winner in the American Division with a 3-1 record. Eagle Pass, Texas, garnered the No. 2 spot with a 2-2 mark on the basis of a head-to-head tiebreaker, with Russell County earning the No. 3 slot. Columbia Basin, also 2-2, was the odd team out.
Things were unsettled in the National Division. Bakersfield, Calif., and Millville, N.J., battled in the final pool contest of the tournament on Monday night with Millville leading 2-1 in the fifth inning.
A Bakersfield win would mean a first-place tie with Norwalk, Conn., at 3-1. Norwalk would then be the No. 1 seed on the basis of a victory over Bakersfield. In that scenario, Bakersfield would advance as No. 2 and Albany, Minn., would be the No. 3 team with a 2-2 mark.
Should Millville win Monday's late game, Norwalk would earn the top National Division seed at 3-1. Albany, Bakersfield and Millville would be knotted in a three-way second-place tie at 2-2. Millville would get the nod as the No. 2 team with Bakersfield advancing as the No. 3 team.