COLUMBUS — The future of Columbus baseball looks bright.
The Columbus Mariners 14s didn’t put up big stats, but they scratched and clawed their way to a state championship in the Majors division, the highest level of USSSA baseball. Columbus won four straight games in the hometown tournament, clinching the title Sunday at Pawnee Park Field.
The Mariners started play Friday with losses to Millard United Gold and the Omaha Royals, but head coach Chuck Fleeman knew his team could bounce back.
“They’ve been resilient all season,” he said. “They’ve had a lot of success and played high-caliber teams around the country. Going 0-2 in pool play didn’t hurt their confidence.”
But it did give them an unfavorable draw for bracket play, needing to win four games, two on Saturday and two more on Sunday, to claim the state title. The top-four teams of the 12-team tournament earned first-round byes.
The Mariners were up for the challenge.
Fleeman knew the offense would be able to put up some runs, it came down to how the defense played after a sloppy start on Day 1.
“We really cleaned up the defense,” Fleeman said. “Our pitchers went out and attacked the strike zone and our defense buckled down and made plays.”
A 3-2 victory Saturday over the Papillion Storm Chasers Gold put the Mariners in the win column. A 5-2 win over the Papillion Storm Chasers Blue sent Columbus to the semifinals and a rematch with the Omaha Royals, who beat the Mariners 8-3 in pool play.
This time, Columbus got the better of the Royals, who were averaging nearly 10 runs per game in the state tournament. Columbus won 7-6 to secure a spot in the championship game against the Omaha Pacesetters, who outscored their opponents 36-8 in their three wins in bracket play.
Again, Columbus held down a powerful offense while scoring just enough to win the state title with a 6-5 victory.
“This gives them a lot of confidence going into high school,” Fleeman said. “They’re very excited to play with the older kids ahead of them.”